views updated Jun 08 2018


by Jessie L. Embry


Scholars disagree on whether Mormons, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), can rightly be considered an ethnic group. Using survey results, sociologist Armand Mauss shows that Mormons are typical Americans. Canadian anthropologist Keith Parry, however, contends that Mormons have a distinctive lifestyle and language that set them apart from mainstream America. Much of the Mormon identity comes from its history. Members accept the Book of Mormon as a religious history of a people who saw the United States as a land of promise where Christ's church could be restored before His second coming. As historian Dean May explains, "The Mormons have been influenced subsequently by ritual tales of privation, wandering, and delivery under God's hand, precisely as the Jews have been influenced by their stories of the Exodus. A significant consequence of this tradition has been the development of an enduring sense of territoriality that has given a distinctive cast to Mormon group consciousness. It differentiates the Mormons from members of other sects and lends support to the judgment of [Catholic] sociologist Thomas F. O'Dea that the Mormons 'represent the clearest example to be found in our national history of the evolution of a native and indigenously developed ethnic minority "' (The Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, 1980).

The Mormon church has grown to be more than an American religious denomination. Its 8,000,000-person membership in 1991 nearly covered the world and only half (4,336,000) lived in the United States. Of the one million converts in 1988 and 1989, 60 percent of them were from Mexico and Central and South America. Still, Utah is 77 percent Mormon, but only about one-eighth of the church members (1,363,000) live there.


The founder of the Mormon church in the United States, Joseph Smith, Jr., was the third son of a New England farming family. When he was a teenager, he attended a religious revival where his family lived in upstate New York. Confused by the different religions, Smith prayed for direction in 1820 and over the next few years recorded several personal revelations. He organized his first church on April 6, 1830. Members accepted him as a prophet who could speak the will of the Lord. As the church grew and developed, he received additional revelations that the Mormons view as scripture; these teachings are recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants.

From his New York base, Smith sent his followers out to seek converts; the majority of growth during this period occurred in Ohio. One of the first groups went to share the Book of Mormon with the Native Americans. When there were more Mormons in Ohio than in New York, Smith received a revelation that the church should move west. The first group arrived in Kirtland, Ohio, a few miles east of Cleveland, early in 1831. For the next seven years, Kirtland served as the church headquarters, and the Latter-day Saints built their first temple there.

But Smith made it clear that Kirtland was only a temporary home. In time, he predicted, God would ask Mormons to establish "Zion," a "New Jerusalem" to prepare for the millenniumthe return of the Savior who would usher in a 1,000-year reign of peace. During the summer of 1831 Smith declared that this Zion would be established in Jackson County, Missouri. So Mormons started to gather there. However, tension arose between the Mormons, who opposed slavery, and slaveholding immigrants from Tennessee and Kentucky. The Mormons' claims that the territory was their promised land, their voting together as a bloc, and their communal living posed a threat to the Missourians' lifestyle, and the Mormons were eventually forced from the state.

The Mormons moved to Illinois and settled on undeveloped land along the Mississippi River known as Commerce. They renamed the area Nauvoo and started building a city. The Mormons received a liberal charter from the state that allowed them to have their own militia and courts. From here Smith continued to send out missionaries. Those sent to England were very successful, and soon immigrants from there as well as Canada and other areas of the United States arrived and helped establish what became the second largest city in Illinois. The Saints again started to build a temple. Smith continued to receive revelations.

One of Smith's revelations, plural marriage, caused special problems for the Mormons. Historians do not know when Smith received this revelation; there is some evidence that he married his first plural wife, Fanny Alger, in 1831. He did not write down the revelation until 1843, when he attempted to convince his first wife, Emma Hales Smith, of the principle. Although Smith and some of his closest followers practiced polygamy in Nauvoo, the church did not publicly announce the doctrine until 1852, after the Mormons moved to Utah. Some Mormons who knew of the doctrine opposed the practice and in June 1844 published a newspaper expressing their views of Smith as a fallen prophet. Using the powers granted by Nauvoo's charter, Smith destroyed not only the newspaper but also the press. The city courts released him, but the state arrested him for treason. As Smith, his brother Hyrum, and other church leaders were held in jail awaiting trial, a mob broke into the jail and killed Joseph and Hyrum Smith on June 27, 1844.

Following the death of their leader, Brigham Young (1801-1877), the president of the Council of Twelve Apostles, gained the trust of most of Smith's followers. Some Mormons reported that when Young spoke to them he sounded like Smith. These people saw this as a heavenly manifestation that Young was to be the next leader. Eventually, he became church president. Young led the work to complete the temple in Nauvoo and continued to give the members the ordinances he learned from Smith.

Problems between the Mormons and the local residents continued, and by February 1846, the Mormons began to leave Illinois, heading first for Nebraska and then to Salt Lake Valley. Isolated from the rest of the nation, Brigham Young and the Mormons set out to establish "Zion in the tops of the mountains," following Smith's visions. He planned Salt Lake City and other communities using Smith's Plat of Zion, a grid system. He encouraged the Mormons to be self-sufficient and created an independent commonwealth. He sent settlers to southern Utah, where they attempted to raise cotton and manufacture iron so they would not have to depend on outsiders for these goods. He asked communities to live the "United Order," wherein people shared resources. Communities had varying success for several years, but eventually most communal attempts failed because most Mormons supported the American ideal of free enterprise. Eventually the church adopted free-enterprise policies. The Mormons completed the first temple in the area in St. George, Utah, in 1877. The Salt Lake Temple, which has become a symbol of Mormonism, took 40 yearsfrom ground breaking to dedicationto complete. It was dedicated on April 6, 1893.

Young also announced for the first time publicly that the church endorsed plural marriage. In 1852 Apostle Orson Pratt delivered a discourse on the virtues of plural marriage. While church members now knew the church sanctioned polygamy, most of the Latter-day Saints did not practice it. The practice of polygamy varied by community, apparently based on how strongly local leaders encouraged it. Current research suggests that around 20 percent of the Mormons belonged to plural families.

Because of the Mormons' practice of polygamy and their political and economical isolation, many Americans questioned their loyalty to the nation. In 1857 the U.S. government sent an army to Utah with a federal appointee, Alfred Cumming of Georgia, to replace Brigham Young as governor of the territory. Although the groups resolved the problem peacefully and Cumming took office, the Mormons still contended with the U.S. government. In 1862 Congress passed the Morrill Act, the first legislation against polygamy, and continued to strengthen those laws for the next 25 years. The Edmunds Act (1882) was a series of amendments that strengthened the Morrill Act. It made cohabitation illegal; federal officials only had to prove that husband and wives were living together and not that multiple marriages had been performed for the law to have been broken. Polygamists were disenfranchised and could not hold political office. When the Edmunds Act did not control polygamy, Congress passed the Edmund-Tucker Act (1887), which abolished women's suffrage, required plural wives to testify against their husbands, and allowed the federal government to acquire all church property. The government began plans to confiscate the property, including the temples, in 1890. Church President Wilford Woodruff then issued a "Manifesto" stating that the church would no longer practice polygamy. In 1904 church President Joseph F. Smith presented a second manifesto that disciplined those who continued to practice polygamy or perform plural marriages.


As Mormons arrived in Utah's Great Basin, Brigham Young sent them throughout the West. Although some colonies were short lived, Mormon communities extended from southern Idaho to San Bernardino, California. During the years when the federal government arrested polygamists, Mormons also moved into northern Mexico and southern Alberta, Canada. Young and the presidents who followed him also sent missionaries throughout the United States and northern Europe. The church encouraged the new converts to "gather to Zion." Church-sponsored ships carried emigrants across the Atlantic. Once in the United States, converts traveled by rail as far as possible and then continued by wagon. Some groups who could not afford wagons pulled two-wheeled handcarts. The church established an endowment, the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, to help the new arrivals.

The church encouraged the newcomers to assimilate as quickly as possible. They learned English and the Mormon way of life. Brigham Young proposed an alphabet that spelled English phonetically. Although it was never adopted, the alphabet demonstrated the church's attempt to assimilate newcomers. European immigrants were allowed at first to attend congregations speaking their native languages but were encouraged also to attend the congregation in which they lived, which usually spoke English. In 1903, when a disagreement developed over the celebration of a Swedish holiday, the First Presidency emphasized, "The counsel of the church to all Saints of foreign birth who come here is that they should learn to speak English when possible, adopt the manners and customs of the American people, fit themselves to become good and loyal citizens of this country, and by their good works show that they are true and faithful Latter-day Saints."

Additional factors worked for assimilation in Mormon society; those already in Utah understood the desire of the newcomers to be in Zion and felt a religious obligation to accept and love their brothers and sisters in the gospel. With all groups working together, European immigrants often married out of their cultural groups. So while Salt Lake City's foreign-born population during the 1880s ran as high as 80 percent, there were very few conflicts. Mormon immigrants assimilated into the mainstream of Mormonism's unique culture in one generation.

Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Mormons remained concentrated in the inter-mountain west. The agricultural and mining depression of the 1920s and the nationwide depression of the 1930s forced some Mormons to leave the area looking for employment. During World War II, Utah's population increased as the government developed military bases and supported wartime industries. In the 1990s, while Mormons can be found throughout the United States, there is still a high concentration in the inter-mountain west.


During the nineteenth century, most Americans saw the Mormon church as an eccentric religion that practiced polygamy, voted as a bloc, and lived together. Following the issuing of the Manifesto, though, Mormons not only abandoned polygamy but also gave up many of their unique economic and political practices. In order for Utah to become a state, the federal government required the church to dissolve its political arm, the People's Party. Most Mormons became Republicans and Democrats like the rest of the nation. The church gave up its communal and cooperative efforts and embraced the capitalist economy.

As time passed Mormonism became, as historian Jan Shipps described, "the Reader's Digest church" because members seemed to fit the American ideal. While there are still some misgivings about the church's claims to be the only true church, most Americans now see Mormons as law abiding, peaceful people who embrace all aspects of American life. This image improved in 1978 when the church abandoned its policy that blacks could not hold its lay priesthood.


One major problem facing the Mormon church is its growing international membership, both worldwide and in American ethnic communities. Church leaders face the dilemma of separating gospel values from the American secular traditions that they have interwoven into Mormon culture. Before the priesthood revelation, there was an informal rule in many missions that they should not recruit blacks. As a result, only a limited number of African Americans joined. After 1978, missionaries actively ministered among blacks, and increasing numbers of African Americans are joining the religion. Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans are also becoming members. Polynesian Americans who joined the church in the islands are immigrating to the United States and bringing extended family members. Not all of them are Mormons, but some join after they have arrived. The church has also continued its efforts, although on a lesser scale, to convert Native Americans.

While the northern European immigrants assimilated in one generation, these new members maintain their language and much of their cultural identity. The Mormon church has tried various approaches to help these members, including establishing separate congregations, integrating them into existing congregations without translation support, and facilitating partial integrationallowing them to "fuse" their culture with the Mormon lifestyle. In the 1960s, for example, church President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) actively organized Indian congregations (generally called Lamanite branches), and congregations of other ethnic groups, including a Chinese branch and a German-speaking ward in Salt Lake City, were formed. In the early 1970s, church leaders again questioned the utility of sponsoring separate branches and urged the integration of ethnic members into the church. However, before the end of the decade, a Basic Unit plan encouraged ethnic branches again. In practice the church's policy has vacillated because neither ethnic branches nor integrated wards have met the needs of all church members. Language and cultural barriers often weaken the ties of religion. Questions about how to resolve these issues still face the Mormon leadership.

In addition, church leaders uphold family values and gender roles that some Americans question. Many see the Mormon church as a conservative voice similar to the South's Bible Belt, and even some Mormons question these conservative stands. In 1993 and 1994 the church excommunicated intellectuals who questioned some basic tenets such as not ordaining women to the priesthood, the historicity of the Book of Mormon, and the role of church leaders.

Family and Community Dynamics

Mormons believe that through marriages performed in the temple, families are sealed for eternity. While most American Mormon families live with just the nuclear family, they value the extended family, living and dead. They feel that the temple "saving ordinances" such as baptism, a special "endowment" session, and marriages are also essential for family members who have died. Since these ordinances can only be performed on earth, living Mormons perform them as proxies for deceased relatives. To facilitate this, church leaders encourage Mormons to research their genealogies and collect the names of their deceased relatives.

The LDS church has emphasized family worship, including family scripture reading and weekly family meetings (now called family home evenings) for decades. The practice of family gatherings started in the Granite Stake in the Salt Lake Valley in 1909. Church leaders instructed families to set aside time to learn the gospel, participate in activities, sing songs, read the scriptures together, play games, and enjoy refreshments. Six years later in 1915, the First Presidency of the church announced its official endorsement of the church program. They asked "presidents of stakes and bishops throughout the church [to] set aside one evening each month for a "Home Evening" where "fathers and mothers may gather their boys and girls about them in the home and teach them the word of the Lord." The church formalized the program in 1965 as the "family home evening" program. General church leaders encouraged local leaders to set aside Monday for the weekly meeting, prohibited ward or stake meetings that night, and provided lesson and activity manuals to assist families in their time together.

Mormons also encourage daily family prayer. In a survey of Utah adults by sociologist Stan Albrecht, 42 percent of lifetime Mormons reported having "daily" family prayer, with another 27 percent specifying "often." The comparable figures for converts were 45 percent and 23 percent respectively. While the number of those answering "never" or "only on special occasions" were higher (31 percent for lifetime members and 32 percent for converts), Utah Mormons prayed as families more often than Utah Catholics and Protestants, who collectively reported that 16 percent had daily family prayer, 13 percent less frequently, and 71 percent "never" or "only for special occasions."

Church leaders encourage Mormons to be self-sufficient. Since 1930, the church has operated its own welfare system to help members in need. Leaders ask members to fast once a month and donate the money they would have spent on those meals to help the needy. However, leaders also encourage members to use their own resources and seek their extended families' assistance before coming to the church for aid. To help in times of emergency, leaders ask members to maintain a year's supply of food and other necessities. During the 1930s, the church claimed that it could support its own members, but studies showed that members depended on the federal programs to a greater extent than other Americans. Church members continue to use federal and church programs, but the goal of self-reliance endures.

Church policy discourages teenagers from dating until they are 16 years old. Leaders also encourage no serious dating until after young men serve a two-year full-time mission when they are 19. Leaders stress that young people should marry other Mormons within their own racial group. The 1978 issue of the Church News that announced the change in policy toward blacks holding the priesthood included an article restating that the church still discouraged interracial marriages. It pointed out that marriage is always difficult and even more so when the partners come from different backgrounds. While the topic is not discussed as much in the general church, single Mormons from ethnic groups are frequently confused by the church's counsel to marry within the church and to marry someone from their ethnic groups when they do not find potential marriage partners who are Mormons and who belong to their cultural backgrounds.

The church teaches that sexual intercourse outside marriage is a sin. As a result, Mormon women marry at slightly younger ages than other Americans, while men marry at about the same age as the national average. Most Mormons marry rather than cohabit. As divorce has become more acceptable in the United States, more Mormons are separating. Utah has a higher divorce rate than the national average. Some studies show Mormons are more likely to separate in the first five years and less likely to divorce after five years of marriage.

Mormons believe all people existed as spirits before they were born and that to progress they needed to come to this earth to receive a body and to be tested. Many believe that the spirits on the other side need to be provided bodies. For that reason, the church discourages birth control and suggests that Mormons have large families; Latter-day Saints have families larger than the U.S. average. Mormon church leaders also speak against abortion. They view ending a pregnancy as "one of the most... sinful practices of this day." The only allowable exceptions are where "incest or rape was involved, or where competent medical authorities certify that the life of the mother is in jeopardy, or that a severely defective fetus cannot survive birth."

Mormons value children and provide training for them in the home and in the church. Traditional Mormon gender roles have changed along with overall American values as society has evolved in the twentieth century. But there are still differences in the training of boys and girls. Boys receive the priesthood when they are 12 years old and progress through priesthood offices. Church leaders ask all young men to serve a two-year mission when they are 19 years old. They receive the temple endowment before leaving on their missions. Girls, however, do not have the same advancement. They are allowed but not encouraged to go on missions, and they do not go until they are 21. Young women who serve missions receive the temple ordinances before they leave. Most women attend the temple for the first time just before their marriages. In marriage, a woman is sealed to her husband, and the church teaches that the man, the priesthood holder, is the head of the home; leaders discourage women from working outside the home. While many women work, studies show that women in Utah are more likely to work part time and many Mormon Utah women stay at home.

Despite rather conservative family status for women, however, Utah was the second state (after Wyoming) to give women the right to vote. Although Congress took suffrage away with the Edmunds-Tucker Act, some women continued to campaign for suffrage and were active in the national suffrage movements. The Utah State Constitution gave women back the vote in 1896. Some women, especially those involved in suffrage, became active in political parties. Historically Mormon women have been involved in community health, social welfare, and adoption programs; the best known of these is the Relief Society.


Mormons place a high value on education. Joseph Smith established a School of the Prophets and stressed the importance of learning, and Mormon scripture encourages members to "seek learning even by study and also by faith." Once the Mormons arrived in Utah, they established and sponsored the first schools on all levels in the state. Formal statehood brought public education, and gradually the church closed or transferred to the state most of its high schools (or academies). Weber State University in Ogden, Utah; Snow College in Ephraim, Utah; and Dixie College in St. George, Utah, are examples of state-sponsored institutions that were first established as Mormon academies. The church did not abandon all of its educational facilities, however. It still sponsors Brigham Young University, a four-year college with a large campus in Provo, Utah, as well as a smaller campus in Laie, Hawaii. It also operates a two-year junior college in Rexburg, Idaho, LDS Business College in Salt Lake City, and high schools and smaller colleges throughout the world in areas with limited public education.

With the closing of its academies, the church feared the loss of religious instruction. To provide the spiritual training other than that provided at Sunday activities, the church established seminaries at high schools and institutes at universities. The first seminary was established at Granite High School in Salt Lake City in 1912; the first institute was created at the University of Idaho in Moscow in 1926.

The Mormons' emphasis on education has led to an educated Mormon populace in the United States. In 1984 sociologists Stan L. Albrecht and Tim B. Heaton found that over half Mormon men (53.5 percent) had some post high school education as compared to 36.7 percent of American men; 44.3 percent of Mormon women had similar training, contrasting with only 27.7 percent of American women overall.


For the most part, American Mormons observe only the national holidays that other Americans celebrate. The exception is July 24, Pioneer Day, in honor of the day that Brigham Young entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. This date is a state holiday in Utah, and residents celebrate with parades and fireworks. With the emphasis Mormons place on their history, members throughout the United States celebrate Pioneer Day on a smaller scale.


Mormons consider the Word of Wisdom, a revelation received by Joseph Smith, to be a commandment from God. According to Mormon tradition, in 1833 Emma Smith questioned male church leaders using chewing tobacco and spitting in her home. As a result, Joseph Smith asked the Lord for guidance and received Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants. It cautioned against "wine and strong drinks," tobacco, and "hot drinks." It also said meat should be "used sparingly" and urged the use of grains, especially "wheat for man," and herbs. When the revelation was first received, the church considered it only advice; violation did not restrict church membership. During the 1890s, though, church leaders started emphasizing the Word of Wisdom more. They led the prohibition fight in Utah and discouraged the use of alcoholic drinks. In 1921 church president Heber J. Grant made obeying the Word of Wisdom a requirement to enter the temple. The church interpreted the revelation to forbid coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol, but it does not stress other elements of the teaching, including guidelines about the use of meat and grains.

Strict adherence to the Word of Wisdom has led to greater health among Mormons. Studies have found that Mormons in Utah have fewer cases of diseases, especially cancers, and suggest this may be because they do not use tobacco or alcohol. One study declared that Mormons showed that one-third of the cancers in the United States could be prevented by avoiding these substances. Mormons also helped in cancer research through their high birth rate and the keeping of genealogical records. University of Utah professors have encoded this information and identified high-risk cancer patients. In addition, information provided by the Mormons helped lead to the identification of a gene that frequently occurs in colon cancer patients.

Nineteenth-century Mormon health practices and problems were similar to those of other Americans at the time. Mormons suffered a high rate of infant morality and death from infectious diseases. Their initial mistrust of the medical profession was also common. Some early Mormons believed in herbal treatments. Many practiced faith healing. Leaders encouraged members to depend more on the power of God than on doctors. In the church's early days, men and women gave blessings as a way of healing. Usually women blessed other women at the time of childbirth. Now the church only authorizes men holding the priesthood to give blessings.

Mormon health practices have changed over the years. Some modifications developed in response to changes in American views. After the Mormons moved to Utah, Brigham Young encouraged members to go to doctors for medical treatment. His suggestion slightly preceded the general American shift to greater support of the medical profession. Young asked second-generation Mormons to return to the East to study medicine, and men and women responded. While leaders still stressed faith healing, they also encouraged members to seek the assistance of secular medicine.

Around the turn of the century, Mormons participated in public health programs that were popular throughout the United States. Church leaders encouraged voluntary vaccination programs and supported quarantines. The women's organization, the Relief Society, sponsored maternal and child health programs. It also held milk clinics and organized "Swat the Fly" campaigns. The women worked closely with the state government to implement the services Congress provided through the 1920s Sheppherd-Towner Act. Under this law, the stake Relief Society in Cottonwood opened a maternity hospital and other church groups provided layettes and promoted pregnancy and well-baby care.

The Mormon church also sponsored hospitals in Utah to provide assistance to the sick. The Relief Society started the Deseret Hospital in 1882. When that hospital closed 10 years later, members worked to raise money for the W. H. Grover Latter-day Saint Hospital that opened in 1905. The Mormon church owned and operated hospitals in Utah and Idaho until the 1980s, when the leaders turned these hospitals over to a newly created private institution, the Intermountain Health Corporation.

By the end of the twentieth century, Mormons depended as much on doctors as on other members. While blessings at the time of illness continue, leaders recommend that members seek medical advice. Physician and historian Lester Bush concludes, "With regard to most aspects of medical practice, Mormons are indeed no longer a `peculiar people "' (Health and Medicine Among the Mormons: Science, Sense, and Scripture, 1993). There are some minor differences though. Early in the century the Utah state legislature voted against compulsory vaccinations. Later that decision was reversed, but for years Utah had higher cases of smallpox than the rest of the nation because vaccinations were not required. Utah has also resisted water fluoridation. In 1972 the First Presidency asked members to study the issue and make their own decision, but they did not express support. As a result, much of Utah's water is not fluoridated, and children have more cavities.


Though Mormons are found throughout the world, the church is thoroughly American. That is true especially of its leadership. While the church has appointed local leaders that represent its worldwide membership, the most influential, the First Presidency and the Council of Twelve, are all white American males. When a president dies, the senior member of the Council of Twelve replaces him, so future church leaders will come from this group. The two Quorums of Seventies are also General Authorities in the church. The First Quorum is appointed for life and in 1993 included 35 men. Only eight of its members are not from the United States. The Second Quorum is appointed for a five-year term. Of 43 men in 1993, only 14 are not Americans. Since nearly all the General Authorities are Americans, the body tends to represent that perspective.

Mormons attend geographically structured congregations known as wards. In Utah a ward might include only a few blocks; in other areas, wards might encompass an entire middle-sized or metropolitan city. In Utah boundaries frequently split neighborhoods, and there is very little contact outside assigned wards. Wards support religious and social life by sponsoring athletic events, parties, and other activities for all age groups. Five to six wards form a unit known as a stake, which is similar to a diocese.

The importance of "going to church" has changed for Mormons over time. Historian Jan Shipps described the changes in Mormon religious practice: "Hypothetical Saints [travelling to the nineteenth century] ... in a time machine would have been astonished to find so few Saints at sacrament meeting because the twentieth century sacrament meeting is a visible worship sign, whereas in the pioneer era more expressive worship signs were irrigation canals or neatly built or nicely decorated houses or good crops of sugar beets. More significant, living in the nineteenth century was the sign of citizenship in God's elect nation" (Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition, 1985). As the Mormons gave up such distinctive practices as polygamy and the United Orders, the responsibility of "boundary maintenance" shifted from the church to the individual. According to Shipps, "The LDS dietary, behavior, and dress codes" are now important boundary markers, while correspondingly, "worship activity ... seems almost mandatory."

The importance of attending worship services is reflected in contemporary Mormon church statistics. For example, a 1980-1981 study shows that 68 percent of lifetime Mormons in Utah attend church on a weekly basis. Converts are even more devout: 74 percent attend weekly. Sociologist Armand Mauss' study of general U.S. surveys found that 58 percent of Mormons go to church weekly compared to only 29 percent of other Americans. On Sundays Mormons attend a three-hour block of meetings that includes a general worship serviceknown as the sacrament meetingfor everyone. Adults and teenagers attend Sunday School classes. Men and women then split; women attend Relief Society and men attend priesthood meeting. Teenage girls attend Young Women, and teenage boys attend priesthood classes. Children between the ages of three and twelve go to Primary. A nursery serves those between eighteen months and three years of age. Before 1981, Mormons scattered meetings throughout the week. Partly because of the gasoline shortage of the late 1970s, these meetings were consolidated into today's Sunday block. The church leaders hoped this would not only cut down travel time, but allow families more time to be together.

Mormons also develop a sense of community by working together in the wards. The only paid full-time clergy in the church are the General Authorities. Ward and stake leaders accept positions to serve as bishop (similar to a pastor or priest), stake president (similar to a bishop in the Catholic church), and staff for other church organizations. Catholic sociologist Thomas F. O'Dea in his extensive study of the Mormons observed that the church's lay ministry means "the church has provided a job for everyone to do and, perhaps more important, has provided a formal context in which it is to be done. The result is a wide distribution of activity, responsibility, and prestige" (The Mormons, 1957). O'Dea explained lay structure has historical roots. Mormonism came into being "when lay responsibility in church government was widespread and developed in circumstances that demanded lay participation for the survival of the group and the carrying-out of the program.... If western conditions caused older and established churches to make use of laymen, a new and struggling religious movement had all the more reason to do so, and no inhibiting traditions." Mormonism's already expansive definition of priesthood continued to broaden, becoming universal for men after 1978.


Early Mormon meeting houses and temples were works of art. The architecture was often similar to Gothic chapels and represented the feeling that the Saints were giving the best to the Lord. The Salt Lake Temple, often seen as the symbol of Mormonism, is a classic example; but the church has had a mixed record of preserving these historic treasures. In the late 1960s local residents along with state citizens fought to prevent the church from tearing down the Heber City, Utah, tabernacle that had served as a meeting place for the Wasatch Stake. Just a few years later similar groups were unable to preserve the Coalville, Utah, tabernacle. In the late 1970s the church preserved the outside of the Logan Temple but gutted the interior. It maintained the original murals in the Salt Lake and Manti temples. In 1994 the church announced plans to convert the tabernacle in Vernal, Utah, into a temple.

Mormon temples provide a special worship atmosphere for members; meeting houses are more practical. They include a chapel for worship, a cultural hall for sports and theater, classrooms, a kitchen, and a library. In the early days the buildings were still decorative; now there is more emphasis on utilitarianism. The church provides standard architectural plans that can be adapted for individual needs. New temples are built to serve functional needs. A good contrast that shows the changes is to compare the Salt Lake Temple with its granite towers and symbolism with the simple concrete design of the Provo, Utah, and Ogden, Utah, temples.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Mormons have a variety of occupations. Sociologist Wade Dewey Roof and theologian William McKinney examined religious "streams" in the "circulation of the saints." The "upward movement" from one social and economic class to another is one of these streams. They concluded that the Mormon church moved from the bottom of the lowest scale in the 1940s, based on education, family income, occupational prestige, and perceived social class, to the highest in the middle category by the 1980s.

Politics and Government

Since the breakup of the People's Party, the Mormon church leaders claim to speak out only on political issues that they consider to be of moral concern. In 1968 the church opposed the sale of liquor by the drink, supported Sunday closing laws, and favored right-to-work laws. The Mormon church also took a stand opposing the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the 1970s. While LDS women were split, the church's Relief Society came out against the amendment and in October 1976 a First Presidency statement opposed the ERA. The church's stand influenced the vote in Utah, Florida, Virginia, and Illinois and affected states such as Idaho that attempted to reverse their ratification of the amendment.

Besides opposing the ERA, Mormons attended state activities for the International Women's Year. Mormons tended to vote as a bloc against what they saw as liberal proposals. The Mormon church also made national news when an outspoken supporter of the ERA, Sonia Johnson, was excommunicated from the Mormon church. The Mormon Women's Forum, a group of Mormon feminists seeking to reform the church, looks at what its members see as the suppressive influence of the church on Mormon women and examines such issues as the ordination of women to the priesthood.

The First Presidency also spoke out against the location of the MX missile system in Utah and Nevada in 1981. The church issued a statement declaring, "Our fathers came to this western area to establish a base from which to carry the gospel of peace to the peoples of the earth." It continued, "It is ironic, and a denial of the very essentials of that gospel, that in this same general area there should be a mammoth weapons system potentially capable of destroying much of civilization." The federal government then suggested moving the project to Wyoming and later abandoned the project altogether.

The Mormon church also spoke out on other issues. Leaders came out strongly against abortion. Utah passed one of the most pro-life legislation packages in the United States in 1991. In 1992 the LDS church opposed a pari-mutuel betting proposal in the state of Utah; several general authorities mentioned this subject in the October General Conference just before the election. The measure was defeated.

Other than speaking out on issues and encouraging members to vote and be involved in the political process, Mormon leaders do not officially support any political party. Almost half of the American Mormon population are Republicans. The rest are independents, Democrats, and small political party members. Mormons tend to be conservative no matter which political party they belong to.


One of Joseph Smith's Articles of Faith, a 13-statement creed of belief, says that Mormons believe in being "subject" to governments and "honoring" the laws of the land. Church leaders asked members to participate in the armed forces of their countries, even when that meant that Mormons fought against each other. During World War II and the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts, Mormon leaders restricted the missionary efforts and discouraged draft dodgers and conscientious objectors. Mormons have changed the way that they view wars. In the early church, Latter-day Saints looked for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. They viewed the Civil War as the beginning of the "wars and rumors of wars" that were prophesied would proceed the millennium. Mormons saw the Spanish American War that came immediately after Utah received statehood as a chance to prove their loyalty to America. Like other Americans, Mormons saw World War I as a "just war" to end all wars. World War II was seen as a necessary battle to save democracy and remove dictators.

Individual and Group Contributions


Laurel Thatcher Ulrich won the Pultizer Prize for nonfiction for her book A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. Ulrich is a professor of history at the University of New Hampshire. Mormons also publish scholarly journals that deal with various aspects of LDS life. The first journal addressed to the intellectual community was Brigham Young University Studies (1959). In 1966 scholars formed Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, an independent voice, despite disapproval from many in the church's hierarchy. Other autonomous periodicals followed including the Journal of Mormon History (1974), Exponent II (1974), and Sunstone (1975). The Mormon History Association publishes the Journal of Mormon History. The rest are published by small groups devoted to the need for an independent organ for Mormon scholars.


President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) encouraged Mormons to develop an art form of their own. Mormons have attempted to do this throughout the church's history. They formed musical groups, especially bands, during the nineteenth century. They also participated in choral singing on a local and church-wide basis. Several Mormon regional choirs are very successful. The best-known choir is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir that presents a weekly program on CBS Radio and Television. Equally well-known is the Osmond family, which has had many different successful music groups, whether it was the Osmond Brothers, or brother and sister act Donny and Marie. Mormons have also encouraged plays and theatrical productions. In 1861 the church built the Salt Lake Theater that was the center of drama in the Rocky Mountain West for years. Dramas have continued on a local and churchwide basis over the years. The church also sponsors pageants depicting the Mormon past at historic sites throughout the United States. The most noted is the Hill Cumorah Pageant near Palmyra, New York, which enacts the history of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's early life.

Mormons have used motion pictures as missionary and teaching tools. One of the first was Man's Search for Happiness, produced for the 1967 World's Fair in New York City. Since then, the church has produced television specials and other motion pictures. In 1993, for example, the church started showing Legacy, a dramatic presentation of early Mormon history, in the restored Hotel Utah, now known as the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

Mormon artists have used their talents to express church messages. During the 1880s and 1890s, Mormon painters went as missionaries to Paris to learn the impressionist art. They returned to paint murals for the Salt Lake Temple. Other Mormon painters contributed stained glass windows and other paintings to chapels. As the church has grown worldwide, artists from many countries have adapted their native art forms to portray Mormon themes. The church-owned Museum of Church History and Art sponsors art competitions to help collect and display the art produced from around the world. Brigham Young University has a large collection of painting and sculpture in its Museum of Art.


Amy Brown Lyman (1872-1959) served on the Relief Society general board and as president of that organization from 1940 to 1944. Lyman was active in church and state welfare programs. James O. Mason (1930 ) worked in the LDS church welfare services and then in the Utah Department of Health. In 1989 he was appointed head of the U.S. Public Health Service. He retired from the federal government in 1992 and was called to be a member of the Second Quorum of Seventy in the LDS church. Eliza R. Snow (1804-1887) served as secretary of the Relief Society in Nauvoo, Illinois, and president in Utah. Snow wrote poems; some are LDS hymns. She was a plural wife of Joseph Smith, and after Smith's death, she became a plural wife of Brigham Young. Emmaline Blanche Wells (1828-1921) was editor of the Women's Exponent for nearly four decades and general president of the Relief Society for over a decade. Active in women's suffrage, she was a friend of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.


Since the early church, Mormons have published newspapers and magazines. Some important U.S. publications include the Evening and Morning Star (Independence, Missouri, 1832-1833; Kirtland, Ohio, 1833-1834), the Times and Seasons (Nauvoo, Illinois, 1839-1946); and the Frontier Guardian (Kanesville, Iowa, 1849-1852). Once in Utah the Mormons started a newspaper, the Desert News (1850-) that is ongoing. Women established a quasi-Mormon women's paper, the Woman's Exponent (1872-1914). It was replaced by an official magazine, the Relief Society Magazine (1914-1970). The church also sponsored a Sunday School magazine, the Juvenile Instructor, a young women's magazine, and the Children's Friend. The general church magazine was the Improvement Era (1897-1970). In 1970 the church started three new magazines, the Ensign for adults, the New Era for teenagers, and the Friend for children.


Mormons have also written novels, stories, and poems about the LDS experience. Vardis Fisher (1895-1968) wrote from a Mormon background. Others with Latter-day Saint backgrounds who wrote about Mormon themes include Samuel Taylor (1906 ), Virginia Sorsensen (1912-1992), and Maurine Whipple (1904-1993). Another contemporary Mormon author is Levi Peterson (1933 ), who writes novels (Backslider ) and short stories (Canyons of Grace ). Mormon authors formed the Association of Mormon Letters to promote literary study.


Mormons have also been involved in technological inventions, although most of these innovations have had little to do with their Mormon past. One exception is the development of irrigation. The community-minded Mormons worked out a system to share water in the arid west. They developed irrigation companies and ways to share the limited water resources. Later other Mormons improved these methods and shared them throughout the United States and the world. John A. Widstoe (1872-1952) was among the first Mormons who went east in the 1890s to study science at secular universities. Widstoe directed the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station and was a professor of chemistry at the Utah State Agricultural College. He developed dry farming and irrigation methods. Henry Eyring (1901-1981), a chemist, developed the absolute rate theory of chemical reactions and received the National Medal of Science. He served as president of several leading scientific organizations. Harvey Fletcher (1884-1981), a physicist, worked for Bell Labs and helped develop stereo-phonic reproduction. James Chipman Fletcher (1919-1992) was the director of NASA from 1971 to 1977. He was asked to return to that position after the Challenger disaster and remained from 1986 to 1989.


Terrell H. Bell (1921 ) was the secretary of education in the early 1980s under President Ronald Reagan. Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994) served as president of the LDS church. Benson also served as secretary of agriculture under President Dwight D. Eisenhower and was active in farm organizations. David M. Kennedy (1925 ), a banker, was the secretary of the treasury under president Richard Nixon from 1969-1971, an ambassador-at-large from 1971-1973, and the ambassador to NATO from 1972-1973. He later became an ambassador-at-large for the LDS church. Rex Lee (1935-) was U.S. solicitor general. In 1989 he has became president of Brigham Young University. George Romney (1912 ) was president and general manager of American Motors (1954-1962), governor of the state of Michigan (1963-1967), and a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968. Stewart L. Udall (1920-) served as secretary of the interior in the 1960s under president John F. Kennedy.


Many Mormons have achieved fame in athletics. These include professional baseball players such as Dale Murphy, basketball players such as Danny Ainge, football players such as Steve Young, and golfers such as Johnny Miller. Mormons have also excelled in amateur sports, including athletes Henry Marsh, Doug Padilla, Ed Eyestone, and Jay Silvester in track and field.




Monthly publication of the Affirmation/Gay and Lesbian Mormons. Promotes understanding, tolerance, and acceptance of gay men and lesbians as full, equal, and worthy members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and society. Provides a forum for dialogue between members and church leaders and examines the consistency of homosexual behavior and the Gospel. Studies ways of reconciling sexual orientation with traditional Mormon beliefs.

Contact: James Kent, Editor.

Address: P.O. Box 46022, Los Angeles, California 90046.

Telephone: (213) 255-7251.

Church News.

A weekly publication that includes the activities of Mormons worldwide. It is published as an insert in the Mormon-owned Deseret News.

Contact: Dell Van Orden, Editor.

Address: 40 E. South Temple, P.O. Box 30178, Salt Lake City, Utah 84130.

Telephone: (800) 453-3876; or (801) 534-1515.

Fax: (801) 578-3338.


Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.

Quarterly scholarly journal examining the relevance of religion to secular life and expressing Mormon culture.

Contact: Martha Bradley, Co-Editor.

Address: P.O. Box 658, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110-0658.

Telephone: (801) 363-9988.


A monthly magazine published by the Mormon church for its adult English-speaking members. It includes a message from the First Presidency and articles concerning LDS life and members. A section includes "News of the Church."

Contact: Jay M. Todd, Managing Editor.

Address: 50 East North Temple, 23rd Floor, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.

Telephone: (800) 453-3860; or (801) 240-2950.

Fax: (801) 240-5997.

E-mail: [email protected].

Exponent II.

Quarterly newspaper for Mormon women.

Contact: Susan L. Paxman, Editor. Address: P.O. Box 37, Arlington, Massachusetts 02174.

Telephone: (617) 862-1928.

Fax: (617) 868-3464.


An LDS church magazine for children. Its stories and articles provide information for youth ages three to 12.

Contact: Vivian Paulsen, Editor.

Address: 50 East North Temple, 23rd Floor, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.

New Era.

A Mormon publication for teenagers and young adults. Its articles focus on the concerns of young people.

Contact: Richard M. Romney, Editor.

Address: 50 East North Temple, 23rd Floor, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.

Sunstone: Mormon Experience, Scholarship, Issues, and Art.

Magazine published by Sunstone Foundation, which also sponsors symposiums in the United States. (In 1992 the Mormon church's First Presidency and Council of Twelve issued a statement cautioning against Mormons participating in symposiums, and many felt this referred to Sunstone.)

Contact: Elbert Peck, Editor.

Address: 343 North 300 West, Salt Lake City, Utah, 84103-1215.

Telephone: (801) 355-5926.

Fax: (801) 355-4043.

This People: Exploring LDS Issues and Personalities.

Quarterly magazine for members of the LDS church.

Contact: Jim Bell, Editor.

Address: Utah Alliance Publishing, P.O. Box 50748, Provo, Utah 84605.

Telephone: (801) 375-1700. Fax: (801) 375-1703.


Bonneville LDS Radio Network.

The media corporation owned by the LDS church; provides a 24-hour radio service that is sent by satellite to church members who own satellite receivers. It is also repeated by a few stations across the nation as an FM sideband service.

Contact: Richard Linford.

Address: P.O. Box 1160, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110-1160. Telephone: (801) 575-7505.

Bonneville International also operates radio stations throughout the United States: KIDR-AM (740) in Phoenix, Arizona; KIRO-AM (710) and KWMX-FM (101) in Seattle, Washington; KOITFM (96.5) and KOIT-AM (1260) in San Francisco, California; KZLA-FM (93.9) and KBIG-FM (104.3) in Los Angeles, California; KSL-AM (1160) in Salt Lake City, Utah; KHTC-FM (96.9) and KIDR-AM (740) in Phoenix, Arizona; KMBZAM (980) in Westwood, Kansas; KLDE-FM (94.5) in Houston, Texas; KZPS-FM (92.5) and KAAMAM (1310) in Dallas, Texas; WDBZ-FM (105.1) in New York City; WGMS-AM (103.5) in Washington, D.C.; and WLUP-FM (97.9) and WNND-FM (100.3) in Chicago, Illinois. These are commercial stations. At least one station in each operating area carries the CBS broadcast "Music and the Spoken Word," and some carry one or more sessions of the LDS General Conference.

LDS Public Communications.

Produces a weekly "News of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" and other public affairs programs that are packaged and sent to radio stations.

Contact: Gerry Pond, Producer.

Address: LDS Church Headquarters, 50 East North Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.


Bonneville International Corporation.

Operates two television stations, KIRO-TV, Channel 7 in Seattle, Washington, and KSL-TV in Salt Lake City, Utah. These operate as commercial stations and do not regularly carry unique Mormon programming. The LDS church Public Communications airs shows on the cable system religious station VISIONS.

Address: LDS Church Headquarters, 50 East North Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.

Organizations and Associations

Affirmation/Gay and Lesbian Mormons.

Members of the Mormon church; friends, relatives, and interested individuals whose purpose is to promote understanding, tolerance, and acceptance of gay men and lesbians as full, equal, and worthy members of the church and society. Studies ways of reconciling sexual orientation with traditional Mormon beliefs.

Contact: Tianna Owens, Executive Director.

Address: P.O. Box 46022, Los Angeles, California 90046.

Telephone: (213) 255-7251.


Mormon History Association.

Promotes the study of the Mormon past. It publishes the Journal of Mormon History, a biannual scholarly publication.

Contact: Craig and Suzanne Foster, Executive Secretaries.

Address: 2470 North 1000 West, Layton, Utah.

Telephone: (801) 773-4620.

Fax: (801) 779-1348.

E-Mail: [email protected].

Mormon Social Science Association.

Encourages the study of Mormon life.

Contact: Lynn Payne, Secretary-Treasurer.

Address: Sociology Department, A 800 SWKT, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah 84602.

Young Women of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (YW).

Founded in 1869. Description: Girls between the ages of 12 and 18. Seeks to strengthen the spiritual life of young women through Christian values and experiences. Reinforces the values of faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, and integrity. Works to develop leadership attributes in young women through service in the community. Bestows Young Womanhood Medallion for special achievement.

Contact: Margaret D. Nadauld, President.

Address: 76 North Main, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.

Telephone: (801) 240-2141. Fax: (801) 240-5458.

Museums and Research Centers

Charles Redd Center for Western Studies

Integral unit of Brigham Young University. History, anthropology, economic development, literature, folklore, social development, politics, and other activities relating to western development, including studies on Mormon history.

Contact: Dr. Edward A. Geary, Director.

Address: 5042 Harold B. Lee Library, Provo, Utah 84602.

Telephone: (801) 378-4048.

Fax: (801) 378-6708.

E-mail: [email protected].

Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History.

Integral unit of Brigham Young University. History of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its followers (Mormons).

Contact: Dr. Ronald K. Esplin, Director.

Address: 127 Knight Mangum Building, Provo, Utah 84602.

Telephone: (801) 378-4023.

Fax: (801) 378-4049.

E-mail: [email protected].

Sources for Additional Study

Alexander, Thomas G. Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Allen, James B., and Glen M. Leonard. The Story of the Latter-day Saints, second edition. Salt Lake City: Deseret Books, 1992.

Arrington, Leonard J., and Davis Bitton. The Mormon Experience. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979.

Bush, Lester E. Health and Medicine Among the Mormons: Science, Sense, and Scripture. New York: Crossroads, 1993.

Cornwall, Marie, Tim B. Heaton, and Lawrence A. Young. Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

Hansen, Klaus J. Mormonism and the American Experience. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Hill, Marvin S. Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989.

Ludlow, Daniel H. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan, 1992.

Mauss, Armand L. The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

Shipps, Jan. Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985.


views updated May 23 2018


MORMONISM . The religious movement popularly known as Mormonism encompasses several denominations and sects, the largest of which is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, and had a worldwide membership of about twelve million in 2003. The second largest organization is the Community of Christ (formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) with headquarters in Independence, Missouri, and a membership of about 250,000. Perhaps the smallest of numerous Mormon splinter groups is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite) in Burlington, Wisconsincomposed of followers of James T. Strang (18131856)with about two hundred members. All of these churches trace their origins to founder Joseph Smith Jr. (18051844).

Origins of Mormonism

Mormonism began in western New York in the 1820s, a time when the fires of the Second Great Awakening were sweeping across the "burned-over district," and America's most important nineteenth-century waterway, the Erie Canal, was being completed there. Such a mingling of spiritual and physical developments was a perfect expression of the symbiosis between evangelical religion and an emerging industrial order that radically transformed American society, leaving many Americans bewildered and confused. Among those passed by in the rush for progress was the family of Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith, who had left New England with their children in 1816 in search of better economic opportunities in western New York. They settled in the village of Palmyra, directly on the canal route. Though skeptical of the religious enthusiasms of the revivalists, the Smiths were persuaded of the need for religious affiliation. However, they found it difficult to make a choice among competing denominations. Their third eldest son, Joseph Smith Jr., was particularly confused in his search for the one true church. According to a later official church account, in the spring of 1820 the boy, aged fourteen, retired to a grove on his father's farm, where he prayed for divine guidance. In a vision he beheld two personages. One of these spoke to him, pointing to the other, saying "This is my beloved son, hear him!" He was told to join none of the existing denominations, for they were "all wrong."

As young Joseph matured, he had a number of subsequent visions and revelations that convinced him that God had chosen him as his instrument to restore the true church of Christ, which through the course of history had been corrupted by fallible and evil people. In preparation for this restoration, Smith was directed by an angel to unearth a set of golden records from a hill near his parents' farm. He then translated these records with divine aid and published them in 1830 as the Book of Mormon, a sacred history of three groups of pre-Columbian migrants to America, including the ancestors of some American Indian tribes. According to the Book of Mormon, Christ had visited the inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere after his crucifixion, taught the gospel, and instituted a church "to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself to all nations" (Book of Mormon, title page). Although accepted as scripture by believing Mormons, and popularly called the Mormon Bible by nonbelievers, Smith regarded the Book of Mormon as a supplement rather than a substitute for the Bible.

Smith also believed that no scripture, ancient or modern, was sufficient for the restoration of the gospel. More than anything else, mankind needed divine authority to act in the name of God, an authority that had vanished after a great falling away in the early days of Christianity. This authority was restored in the spring and summer of 1829, when the powers of the priesthood of the early churchwhich included the authority to baptize and the gift of the Holy Ghostwere conferred upon Smith and his associate Oliver Cowdery by John the Baptist and the apostles Peter, James, and John. Smith now felt authorized to restore the church of Christ, which he officially organized under the laws of the state of New York on April 6, 1830, shortly after publication of the Book of Mormon. In 1838 the name was changed from Church of Jesus Christ to Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Although the new religion initially met with skepticism and persecution, it succeeded in attracting a substantial following among restorationists, who saw in Mormonism the fulfillment of the awaited return of the true church of Christ led by a divinely ordained priesthood. Perhaps the most prominent and influential of these early converts was Sidney Rigdon (17931876), erstwhile associate of Alexander Campbell (17881866). Rigdon brought virtually his entire Ohio congregation over to the new religion, thus inducing Smith and most of his New York followers to establish a Mormon settlement in 1831 in Kirtland, Ohio. There Smith greatly amplified and broadened his theological and organizational principles in a series of revelations first published in 1833 as A Book of Commandments and later enlarged into the canonical Doctrine and Covenants. The Saints were enjoined to gather in communities as God's chosen people under an egalitarian economic order called the Law of Consecration and Stewardship and to build a temple that was, literally and symbolically, the sacred center of the community. Jesus, Moses, Elias, and Elijah then appeared to Smith and Cowdery in the temple in 1836. These revelations initiated a patriarchal order that harkened back to Old Testament traditions and established the nucleus of a kingdom of God in which the temporal and the sacred became indistinguishable.

These innovationsradical departures from traditional Protestantismwhile attracting many new converts, strained the loyalty of some early Saints and also began to arouse the hostility of non-Mormons. When the Saints were forced to leave Kirtland in 1838, it was largely the result of internal conflict; however, as early as 1833 a Mormon settlement in Jackson County, Missouri, had to be abandoned because of persecution. When the Mormons were completely driven out of Missouri in 1839, it was primarily because of opposition to their kingdom. Internal conflict also intensified as Smith continued to move beyond his early restorationist impulse in favor of a kingdom of God that achieved its fullest expression in Nauvoo. Founded in 1839 for refugees from Missouri, Nauvoo became Illinois's largest city in its day, with a population of about eleven thousand by 1844. It was a city under the full religious, social, economic, and political control of the Mormon kingdom. Much of this development was the result of the spectacular success of missionaries in Great Britain who, beginning in 1837, sent a steady stream of converts to the American settlements.

The success of Nauvoo may well have led Smith to overreach himself. He assumed the leadership of the Mormon militia and announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. Smith ostensibly made this gesture to avoid having to make an inexpedient choice between the Whigs and the Democrats, who attracted the majority of voters, but he was also imbued with the millennial belief that, if God wished him to become president and establish Mormon dominion over the United States, who would hinder him? The temple in the center of Nauvoo was much more Hebraic in design and ritual (with Masonic borrowings) than the one in Kirtland, which resembled a New England meetinghouse. Innovative doctrines and ordinances, such as baptism for the dead and especially plural marriage for time and eternity, with Smith and his closest associates secretly taking numerous wives, offended the religious sensibilities of many Saints, who believed they had joined a more traditional, more Protestant kind of Mormonism. Similarly controversial doctrines, such as belief in the preexistence of humans, metaphysical materialism with its attendant denial of the belief in creation ex nihilo, eternal progression, a plurality of gods, and the capacity for humans to achieve divinity through obedience to the principles of Mormonism, outraged not only nonbelievers but tested the faith of some of the more traditionally oriented Latter-day Saints. A group of alarmed anti-Mormons effectively capitalized on internal dissent and formed a mob that killed Smith and his brother Hyrum on June 27, 1844.

History has shown that the killers of the Mormon prophet were wrong in thinking that they had delivered a mortal blow to Mormonism. Although Smith's energy and genius started the new religion and kept it going in the face of nearly insurmountable external and internal opposition, a number of able leaders had been attracted to the young religion. They helped ensure its survival after Smith's death. As early as 1834, Smith had organized some of his most loyal lieutenants into a council of twelve apostles in restorationist emulation of the primitive church. In 1840, Brigham Young (18011877) became president of this powerful and prestigious group. In this capacity Young was sustained as leader by those Mormons who had unquestioningly accepted Smith's Nauvoo innovations. Most of those devotees followed Young to the Rocky Mountains, while most of the more traditional Saints, who rejected plural marriage and kingdom building, remained in the Midwest. In 1860, Smith's son Joseph Smith (18321914) became president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which established its headquarters in Independence, Mis-souri.

Settlement in Utah

Young's advance pioneering party arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in July 1847 and immediately began to survey a site for a city with a temple at the center. Aided by a steady stream of immigrants, Young built an inland empire, including Utah and parts of present-day Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, Nevada, and California, which boasted a population of over 100,000 by the time of his death in 1877. A practical leader not given to visions and revelations, he insisted throughout his life that he was implementing the plans that Smith had been unable to realize fully in Nauvoo. Plural marriage, practiced secretly in Nauvoo, was publicly announced to the world from Salt Lake City in 1852. Most of the church leaders took numerous wives to set an example for their somewhat reluctant followers, and by the 1860s more than 30 percent of the Mormon population lived in polygamous households. Temporal government was placed in the hands of ecclesiastical leaders under the auspices of a political kingdom of God whose theocratic model was ancient Israel. An ambitious attempt to establish a Mormon State of Deseret failed, but home rule for the Mormons was only partly thwarted, as the federal government, under the Compromise of 1850, created the Utah Territory with Young as governor.

In 1857, however, President James Buchanan (17911868) felt compelled to act on reports by territorial officials, who had accused Young and his followers of disloyalty to the United States and of immoral polygamous liaisons. The president sent an expeditionary force of the U.S. Army to Utah to prove to a reform-minded North that the Democrats were at least against one of the "twin relics of barbarism" (meaning slavery and polygamy), whose elimination had been the rallying cry of the Republican Party platform in 1856. "Buchanan's blunder," however, did not gain him any political advantage and ended in a negotiated settlement. Although Alfred Cumming, a non-Mormon, was officially installed as the new governor, the Mormons regarded Young as de facto governor of Utah. Nevertheless, the handwriting was on the wall for Young's Mormon kingdom; further government attacks on polygamy and the political kingdom were delayed only by the Civil War. Beginning in the 1870s, the U.S. Congress exerted increasing pressure on the Mormons, who in 1890 were forced to relinquish polygamy and the political kingdom as the price of their religion's survival. Mormon president Wilford Woodruff (18071898) issued a manifesto disavowing any further sanctioning of plural marriages by the church, symbolizing the passing of an era and the beginning of the reconciliation of Mormonism with the worlda transformation reinforced by a "second manifesto" issued by church president Joseph F. Smith (18381918), a grandnephew of the founding prophet, in 1904.

Modern Mormonism

Throughout most of the nineteenth century, Mormonism had been an antimodern, antipluralist religious movement in a modernizing, pluralistic world. The latter was represented perhaps most significantly by the symbiosis between evangelical religion, entrepreneurial capitalism, and political pluralism. Religion, like politics, had become a commodity in the free marketplace of ideas and beliefs. Democrats and Whigs might disagree about means but not about ends. The same was true of Protestant religious denominations, who agreed that ultimately they would all arrive at the same truth, if by different routes. This was a world alien to Smith and most of those who became Mormons. Smith's original quest, which had sent him to pray in his father's grove, was for the one true church. Because truth ultimately could not be divided, "correct principles" also applied to economics, society, and governmentprinciples that were incompatible with an emerging, competitive, capitalist American society. Here then was a fundamental source of conflict between the Saints and their adversaries, in which the former were sustained by their millennial expectations of the near advent of their Savior and the eventual triumph of the kingdom of God over its enemies.

When the Saints voted on October 6, 1890, to accept Woodruff's manifesto, they may not have perceived the full significance of their decision. Yet this event was a watershed in Mormon history, as the Saints then had to jettison some of their most distinctive institutions and beliefs: economic communitarianism, plural marriage, and the political kingdom. Mormons now followed their erstwhile evangelical adversaries into the pluralistic American cultural mainstream, joining what the historian Martin Marty has called "a nation of behavers." In search of new boundaries and symbols of identification, the Mormons, much like the evangelicals, placed greater emphasis on strict codes of behavior: abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, tea, and coffee; acceptance of regulated dress norms; and more intensive monitoring of sexual morality. These codes reflect the very values that had aided nineteenth-century evangelicals in their adaptation to an emerging capitalist industrial order requiring work discipline that was effectively sustained by internalized behavioral norms. Nevertheless, the question of how close modern Mormonism has moved to the Protestant mainstream remains controversial. In spite of Mormon protestations to the contrary, major conservative evangelical groups continue to reject the Mormon claim to be Christian.

In any case, Mormons found modern values congenial in their own adaptation to a competitive, individualistic social and economic order. They prepared the rising generation to meet this change not only through the family but also through a growing number of church auxiliaries: primary associations for the very young, young men's and women's organizations, Sunday schools, priesthood quorums, and women's auxiliaries. Such institutions were all designed to keep Mormons active in their church from the cradle to the grave, while at the same time allowing them to become productive members of the larger American society. Religion thus became a springboard for social and economic success in the world (though not intentionally so), which was further facilitated by the Mormons' increasing commitment to education. In the early years of the third millennium ce some fifty thousand Latter-day Saints (LDS) attended church-sponsored institutions of higher learning, such as the flagship Brigham Young University as well as church colleges in Idaho and Hawai'i. Many thousands more studied at secular universities throughout the United States and the Western world, receiving religious instruction at LDS institutes adjacent to such campuses. Mormons serve in prominent positions in the federal government, in the military, in major business corporations, and in major universities.

Many of these Mormons are third- to fifth-generation Latter-day Saints who have a strong cultural identification with their religion that is enhanced by closely-knit family ties. The strong Mormon emphasis on family solidarity finds theological and institutional expression in the belief in the eternal nature of the family when family ties have been solemnized within the sacred precincts of the temple. Temple ordinances, conducted not only for the living but also vicariously for the dead, are intended to bind families and ultimately the entire human race through sacred covenants. Only those Mormons who observe their religion's strict rules of conduct are allowed to enter the temple and participate in these ordinances and rituals. Temples, then, are not ordinary church buildings but are regarded as special edifices and are found only in major population centers. There are more than a hundred of these in various parts of the world. Meetinghouses, on the other hand, are functional buildings where congregations of several hundred members hold simple worship as well as social and athletic eventsall open to non-Mormon visitors. Often two congregations share one building.

Modern Mormonism has succeeded in extending its appeal to members of diverse racial, social, and cultural backgrounds around the world. Missionaries who serve the church at their own expense for two years (mostly young men and women of college age) are increasingly successful in attracting converts in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Many of these converts are attracted by a lay church that offers active participation to all of its members and provides an instant, socially cohesive group whose authoritarian male leaders set boundaries while providing recognition for behavior that conforms to group standards. Many converts are especially drawn to the Mormon family ideal.

This rapid expansion of Mormonism beyond its traditional culture region as it becomes a world religion brings with it some potential for conflict. Some multigenerational Mormons are apprehensive about the erosion of traditional symbols, such as architecture, in favor of a generic utilitarian building style. Others see this as a necessary accommodation of their religion to the cultural needs of new converts. Prophet President Spencer W. Kimball's 1978 revelation extending the lay priesthood to all Mormon males, irrespective of race or color (blacks had been denied the priesthood prior to that date), can be seen as a clear message indicating recognition of the need for major change. This is not to say, however, that tradition had suddenly lost its hold on a conservative hierarchy. Rather, it could be said Mormonism is cautiously backing into the future. A telling example of continuing conservatism is the persistent opposition to changes in the role of women, who are admonished to remain at home to raise children while partaking of the priesthood only through the male heads of families. (By contrast, the Community of Christ, which had never withheld the priesthood from blacks, announced that women were eligible for ordination to the priesthood.) This emphasis on "family values" is also reflected in continuing resistance to tolerance of homosexuality. At the same time, while not condoning abortion, Mormon leaders are less visible in their opposition than the Catholic hierarchy. They have also refrained from getting involved in the public controversy over stem-cell research, having adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Thus, if their history is a reliable guide to the future, the Mormon hierarchy in Utah will not allow its conservatism to hinder the progress of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the twenty-first century.

See Also

Smith, Joseph; Young, Brigham.


For more than a century, studies of Mormonism were highly polemical, divided by a simple dichotomy between believers and nonbelievers. The first sophisticated modern study of Mormonism was by the Catholic sociologist Thomas F. O'Dea, The Mormons (Chicago, 1957). For factual detail, a comprehensive and reliable scholarly account is James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, Utah, 1976). An interpretive synthesis from a scholarly Mormon perspective is Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints (New York, 1979). An informative and evenhanded interpretation from a non-Mormon perspective is Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling, Mormon America: The Power and the Promise (San Francisco, 1999). A scholarly history of the Reorganized Church and the Community of Christ is Richard P. Howard, The Church through the Years; vol. 1: RLDS Beginnings, to 1860; vol. 2: The Reorganization Comes of Age, 18601992 (Independence, Mo., 19921993). This should be supplemented by Alma R. Blair's "Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints: Moderate Mormonism," in The Restoration Movement: Essays in Mormon History, edited by F. Mark McKiernan, Alma R. Blair, and Paul M. Edwards (Lawrence, Kans., 1973), pp. 207230. For a perceptive discussion of the problems associated with modernization, see Armand L. Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (Urbana, Ill., and Chicago, 1994). Klaus J. Hansen, Mormonism and the American Experience (Chicago, 1981), attempts to place Mormonism in the broader context of American culture. Jan Shipps's Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (Urbana, Ill., 1985) is written from the perspective of a sympathetic non-Mormon scholar; hers is a successful attempt to transcend the polemical dichotomy.

Klaus J. Hansen (1987 and 2005)


views updated May 21 2018


ALTERNATE NAMES: Latter-day Saints
LOCATION: United States (headquarters) and worldwide
POPULATION: 13 million worldwide
LANGUAGE: English; language of the country in which they live
RELIGION: Mormonism


Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as Mormons, are members of the Christian sect known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormonism is the term that refers to the combination of doctrine, lifestyle, and culture of the Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded by Joseph Smith in Fayette, New York, in 1830. Smith attracted a small group of followers and settled them first in Kirtland, Ohio, and then in Jackson County, Missouri. The people with whom the early Mormons came into contact considered their beliefs and their way of life peculiar and undesirable and as a result the Mormons suffered much persecution. Forced to move again and again, they relocated from their first settlements in Kirtland and Jackson County to northern Missouri and then to Nauvoo, Illinois. In Nauvoo, the early Mormon church prospered for a while, but hard times soon befell it. The Mormons' neighbors in Nauvoo resented the way they kept to themselves and did not share in community life. Some became enraged when rumors began to spread that the Mormons practiced polygamy, a lifestyle in which one man has several wives.

Because of the resentment growing in the community at large, Joseph Smith was imprisoned in Carthage, Illinois, in 1844. While Smith was in prison, an armed mob stormed the jail and assassinated him. Brigham Young, who was at that time the head of the church's Council of the Twelve Apostles, replaced Smith as the leader of the Church. In 1846 he organized and directed the mass migration from Nauvoo across the Midwestern plains and the Rocky Mountains to the Great Salt Basin of Utah.

In Utah the Church continued to grow, but when its leaders acknowledged that polygamy was in fact a Mormon belief, the United States government stepped in to put a stop to the unacceptable practice. In 1862 and 1882 Congress passed antibigamy laws and in 1879 the Supreme Court ruled that religious freedom could not be claimed as grounds for the practice of polygamy. In 1890 the Mormons officially ended the practice of plural marriage.

Almost 15,000 Mormons served in the U.S. armed forces in World War I. During the 1818-1845 tenure of Mormon president Heber Grant, the number of districts in the Church grew from 83 to 149. The first temple outside of the United States was dedicated in Cardston, Alberta, Canada in 1923. The church expanded its missionary efforts in the 1950s and 1960s and began constructing temples in Europe. In 1978 church authorities announced that they had been instructed by divine revelation to strike down the church's policy of excluding black men from the priesthood. The first temple dedicated on the African continent was in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1985. In 2008 there were an estimated 13 million members of the Church worldwide.

While Latter-day Saints typically integrate easily within the cultures and societies of the country in which they live, there are times in which the beliefs and practices of the Church are brought to public scrutiny and debate. In 1995, the church president, Gordon B. Hinckley, issued the "The Family: A Proclamation to the World." This statement, which reaffirmed Mormon beliefs in the importance of marriage and family came, in part, as a response to national concerns about traditional family values and same-sex marriages. The proclamation defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman and promoted the traditional roles of husband and wife as essential to maintaining the strength of the family unit. In 2007 interest in the beliefs of the Latter-day Saints was sparked when a Mormon, Mitt Romney, made the ballot as a Republican candidate in the U.S. presidential primaries.


About half the world's Mormons live in the United States, mostly in the western part of the country. Nearly 1.8 million members live in Utah. Latter-day Saints can also be found in virtually every part of the world, including Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. In 1995, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints estimated its worldwide membership to be over 9 million individuals, double the number of members in 1975. In 2008 membership was estimated at 13 million worldwide with over 27,450 congregations. That year there were 128 temples throughout the world with an additional 11 under construction.

When the wandering Mormons finally found a home in Utah, Salt Lake City became the center of the Church. The headquarters of the Church are located in Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City is also home of the most extensive genealogical records collection maintained by the church. Some of these genealogical records are housed in vaults carved into the sides of the mountains located just outside the city. The value that Latter-day Saints place on genealogy is linked to their belief that temple ordinances such as baptism and priesthood may be offered by proxy for the souls of family members who have died. The extensive genealogical records are kept so that all ancestors of Mormon families will be known and their souls will be saved by the prayers of the living. Mormons are constantly updating these records, which include information not only on Mormons and their families, but on many non-Mormons as well.


Mormons speak the language of the country in which they live. Since most Mormons live in the United States and other English-speaking countries, the language spoken by most Mormons is English.


The Mormons have no mythic or heroic figures in the usual sense, although they revere their early leaders, Joseph Smith (the founder of Mormonism) and Brigham Young. Some early Mormon beliefs incorporated elements of European and frontier folklore, infusing them with religious content. Faith healing and speaking in tongues both play a role in the Mormon belief system.


Mormonism began when its founder, Joseph Smith, reported having a vision through which God and Jesus appeared and told him that the true authority of the Church of Christ, having been lost at the death of the first twelve apostles, would be restored through him. Later, according to Smith's accounts, another heavenly messenger, an angel named Moroni, directed him a spot where he found thin gold plates inscribed in a hieroglyphic language. Smith's translation of the plates became known as the Book of Mormon, which describes the history, wars, and religious beliefs of a group of people who reportedly migrated from Jerusalem to America in ancient times. The Book also describes various appearances of Jesus to the people of America after his resurrection. Smith later announced that he had been visited through revelations by the apostles Peter, James, and John, who conferred upon him the authority of the Melchizedek priesthood, thus restoring the proper authority of the Church through him.

Mormon religious practices are based on the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and two other books of revelations that were believed to have been divinely revealed to Joseph Smith, Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price. Although Latter-day Saints share some of the beliefs of traditional Christianity, there are also some important differences. Mormons believe that God reveals his true word to individuals who seek it for their own benefit, to leaders of local Mormon churches, and to the President-Prophet of the Church. Their understanding of baptism includes a belief in proxy baptism, or baptism of the dead, for those who have died without receiving baptism by the proper authority. Latter-day Saints also believe in celestial marriage or eternal marriage, a doctrine which teaches that the bond of marriage is for all time and eternity and that such marriage is an essential part of the plan for salvation. Latter-day Saints also have different beliefs on such aspects of Christian faith as the fall of man, the nature of heaven, and the means to obtain salvation.

Sunday is the Sabbath day for the Latter-day Saints. The primary worship service is called a sacrament meeting and takes place in a meeting house. The meetings are typically family-oriented and visitors are welcome. Each meeting usually includes hymn singing, prayers offered by church members, the sacrament of Communion, and one or more speakers. Primary classes provide religious instruction and devotional time for children between the ages of 3 to 11. Men from the ages of 12 years and older will attend priesthood meetings. Women from the ages of 18 years and older will attend Relief Society meetings. Young Women meetings are held for those ages 12 to 17. Local congregations are called wards or branches. The spiritual leader of each ward is called a bishop. The leader of each branch is the branch president. The ward and branch leaders are men who are chosen from and by the congregation and who serve on a voluntary basis. There is no paid clergy.

The temples of the Church are sacred places where the ordinances of endowment, celestial marriage, baptism, and confirmation may be performed. Because the temple is considered such a sacred place, members must receive a special recommendation, called the temple recommend, from their local bishops in order to enter the temple. The temple recommend indicates that one's conduct has proven them to be worthy of entering the sacred space.

After age 19, all Mormon men and some women are expected to devote two years to doing missionary work. This missionary service may take place anywhere in the world. Often, missionaries will call on people at their homes to tell them about the Gospel and the doctrines of The Church of the Latter-day Saints and to distribute the Book of Mormon. During their missionary work years, they must support themselves with money they have saved or earned previously. Many receive financial assistance from their parents.

The president of the church is the head of administration. He is assisted by counselors who make up a body known as the Quorum of the First Presidency. The Quorum of Twelve Apostles is also designated to aid the president. All of these men are considered to be prophets, seers, and revelators. They are responsible for developing, regulating, and administering church policies.


Latter-day Saints celebrate Christmas and Easter as well as the national holidays of the countries in which they live. Pioneer Day is celebrated worldwide on 24 July. This heritage observance is in honor of the arrival of the first Latter-day Saint pioneers in Salt Lake City on 24 July 1847.


Religious rites of passage include baptism, confirmation, temple endowment, marriage sealing, and ordination to the priesthood (for men). Any person eight years of age or older who wishes to join the Church may be baptized according to Mormon practices, which is generally by full immersion in water. After a person is baptized, one or more members of the priesthood will lay their hands on the person's head and offer a blessing that is meant to confer the gift of the Holy Spirit and confirm them as members of the church. This is known as the ordinance of confirmation.

Latter-day Saints also practice proxy baptisms or baptism of the dead, as a means of sanctifying the souls of those who have gone before. In proxy baptism, members of the Church undergo baptismal rites on behalf of their ancestors who either died without an opportunity to be baptized or who were baptized without proper authority, before the doctrines of the Church were revealed to Joseph Smith. Baptism is considered to be necessary for eternal salvation and for membership in the Church.

All men are eligible for priesthood within the Church. Beginning at age 12, males may become members of the Aaronic Priesthood through the blessing and authorization of the proper members of the Melchizedek Priesthood. As members of the Aaronic Priesthood, young men may be given various opportunities to serve within the Church as bishops, teachers, and deacons, under the authority of a member of the Melchizedek Priesthood. From age 17 and older, worthy young men may receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, which is accepted as a personal oath and covenant of a lifelong commitment to the Church and to the faith. Members of the Melchizedek Priest-hood have authority to minister to the sick and offer special blessings on behalf of family members and others. They may also serve at the confirmation and ordination of others.

Mormons also have a coming-of-age rite called an endowment. The endowment is a spiritual blessing through which one receives particular spiritual gifts from God. The ordinance also includes a series of instructions on how to live righteously as one makes a personal commitment to a lifelong practice of faith. Men typically receive their endowment once they have entered the Melchizedek Priesthood. Women commonly undergo the endowment ritual just before a marriage sealing.

The ordinance of marriage sealing is sometimes referred to as celestial marriage or, more properly, the New and Everlasting Covenant and Eternal Marriage. On receiving this temple ordinance, a man and woman are considered to be married (or sealed) to one another for time and eternity. Mormon couples may be married in ceremonies at other Christian churches; however, the sealing ordinance may only be performed within a temple.


Members of the Church often address each other as "Brother" and "Sister."

The practice of home teaching forges an important relation between a family and the Church. Every family is assigned to the care of a member of the priesthood, who is responsible for visiting the family at least once every month to offering teaching and guidance. This Church-wide support system serves as a chance for instruction and growth among families. Church members and their home teacher also contact each other in times of crisis.

While customs concerning dating and courtship generally reflect those of local society, church leaders encourage young men and women not to date until they are at least 16 years old.

Charitable work on behalf of the Church and the poor is a hallmark of Mormon religious belief and practice. All members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make generous donations to support Church activities and ongoing building projects, and also to work on welfare farms and a wide variety of other projects whose goal is to produce food and other things that can be of use to those in need.


The teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints emphasize hard work, nutritious food, exercise, and a family-centered home life. Statistics seem to show that this emphasis tends to lead to longer, healthier lives than are common among their non-Mormon neighbors.

In 1842, 12 years after the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Relief Society was established by Joseph Smith as a women's organization that works in partnership with the priesthood. The original purpose of the Relief Society was to provide care and assistance to poor and needy and to bring people to Christ. In the time since it was founded, the Relief Society has branched out into other areas of social work.

Salt Lake City is the home of Welfare Square, an enormous facility whose purpose is to provide various sorts of aid and relief to the poor and the needy. Welfare Square is staffed completely by volunteer workers. It features a large building housing a 178-foot-tall grain elevator, a large storehouse, a bakery, a cannery, a milk processing operation, a thrift store, and an employment center. The Latter-day Saints take great care to make sure that the items they sell are packaged attractively so that it will not be demeaning for people to shop there. The stores at Welfare Square provide all the necessities for a needy family's comfort while at the same time providing jobs and volunteer work for those who have a desire to give.


For Latter-day Saints, marriage is considered to be an essential part of God's plan for the eternal destiny of God's people and is, therefore, strongly encouraged. In eternal marriage, also called celestial marriage, a man and a woman are sealed unto one another through time and eternity. Children who are born to parents who have received the sealing ordinance are considered to be part of the eternal covenant as well, meaning that they become part of an eternal family. The role of parent is considered to be a sacred duty in that children are to be raised in a way that provides for both their physical and spiritual needs. Religious instruction is considered to be primarily a duty of the parents, with support offered through classes and programs of the Church. The importance of the family bond can be seen in the fact that the state of Utah, in which Mormons predominate, has one of the highest birth rates and lowest divorce rates in the United States. In strengthening this bond, Latter-day Saints are taught to set aside one night a week, usually Monday evening, as a family night, a time when the family may pray and study scriptures together, as well as play.


At the time of one's endowment, an individual may receive what is known as a temple garment, often just referred to as the garment. The garment is worn as an undergarment. The style of the garment, for both men and women, has changed many times over the years. The garment may be of one or two-pieces and is typically made of a white, lightweight material. The pant legs will often extend down to just below the knees and necklines are generally modest. The garment is meant to serve as a reminder and representation of one's commitment to faith and wearing the garment is viewed as a sacred privilege. While believers are encouraged to wear the garment at all times, the practice is not obligatory. Since the garment is considered to be sacred, all outer clothing must cover the garment so that it cannot be seen in public. As the name temple garment suggests, the garment is expected to be worn whenever one is in the temple. Special white robes are generally worn within the temple as well. Dressing rooms and lockers are typically available onsite to allow members to change before entering the temple proper.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints places no other specific restrictions on the type of clothing that members may wear, but most Mormons dress modestly.


Special teachings concerning food and drink are contained in Doctrine and Covenants in a section known as the Word of Wisdom. Based on the teachings of this text, Mormons are instructed to avoid coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages, as well as alcohol and tobacco. Mormons are also asked to fast for two consecutive meals on one Sunday each month (typically the first Sunday) and donate the grocery money saved by fasting to charity.

One long-standing Relief Society project is a food-storage program. Following the dictates of this program, all Mormons are instructed to maintain a year's supply of food for emergencies. As a result of this policy, Mormons have often been accused of hoarding food. Such accusations are totally unfounded, however. The food-storage program is simply intended to maintain the Mormon community in a state of preparedness in the event of a natural disaster or some other sort of emergency.


The Mormons believe strongly in the value of both secular and religious education. The state of Utah has the nation's highest literacy rate (about 95%). Nine out of ten people in Utah finish high school.

Religious instruction is a life-long pursuit for many Latter-day Saints. High school aged students generally participate in a four-year study program known as seminary. During seminary, students spend each school year studying one set of scriptures: Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants. While most students attend special classes for these studies, home study curriculums are available for students in areas without established Mormon communities. Church curriculums are available in 178 different languages. Special Institutes of Religion offer a program of religious instruction for church members who are single and between the ages of 18 and 30. Married college students may also attend the classes, which are generally open to students of other faiths as well. The curriculum focuses on the topics of scripture, Church history, doctrine, marriage, and missions.

The Church also founded and runs Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Founded in 1875, it was named for the charismatic leader who became the second head of the Mormons, succeeding Joseph Smith. There are branches of BYU in Laie, Hawaii, and Rexburg, Idaho. There is also an LDS Business College in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In church, Mormon children are encouraged to speak before the entire congregation at a very early age. This gives Mormon young people the confidence to know that whatever they have to share is always appreciated.


The Mormons have always valued the arts; their cargo on the great trek westward included pianos and other musical instruments. The song "Come, Come Ye Saints" was written during this historic journey. The original Mormon pilgrims sang to God for help, for guidance, for relaxation, and for encouragement from the time they started their wagon trains across the country until they reached their new home in the west. Founded in 1847, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which carries on this tradition, is one of the most famous choral groups in the world. The choir includes about 375 members from all ethnic and economic backgrounds.

During the tenure of Mormon leader Brigham Young, a theater was built in Salt Lake City. The Utah Arts Council is the oldest state agency for the arts in the United States.


Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are free to work at all occupations and are active in all walks of life, especially industry, trade, and the professions. Mormons also hold prominent positions in the federal government and the military.


Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints enjoy all the sports that non-Mormons do.


Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints enjoy the same forms of recreation and entertainment as non-Mormons, although their beliefs generally prevent them from participating in any activities they consider to be unwholesome. While vacationing, Mormon families often attend pageants presented at historic Mormon sites, including Nauvoo, Illinois, and Palmyra, New York.


Antique Mormon furniture featuring stylized designs painted on wood by hand has become a collector's item whose value rises about 10% every year. The Folk Arts Program of the Utah Arts Council supports both visual and performing arts that reflect traditional and ethnic cultures.


Mormon tradition has come into conflict with feminism and some women speaking out against their traditional restriction to child rearing and homemaking have been excommunicated by the Church. Tension has sometimes arisen between the strict, fundamentalist beliefs of new converts to Mormonism and the more moderate views generally held by members of multigenerational Mormon families.

Latter-day Saints are sometimes discriminated against due to false assumptions concerning the topic of plural marriages (polygamy). The practice of plural marriage was part of offi-cial Church doctrine from 1831 to 1890. Since then, however, official church leaders have spoken out against the practice of any man having more than one living wife at the same time. The problem of discrimination has been compounded by the formation of small groups, such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and the Apostolic United Brethren, which are separated from the official Church and have continued to argue for the practice of plural marriage. The FLDS made national headlines in 2006 when its president, Warren Steed Jeffs, was placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List as a fugitive from justice facing charges of arranging illegal marriages between adult men and underage girls. Jeffs was eventually arrested and, in 2007, was found guilty on two counts of being an accomplice to rape. The media focus on such groups tends to raise questions and suspicions against the official Church, which does not condone the practice of plural marriage at all.

The perceived secrecy of the Church, particularly involving ceremonies held within the temples, has also caused suspicion and discrimination of Mormons on the part of the general public. Latter-day Saints believe that ordinances and rituals performed within the temple are of such a sacred nature that participants generally do not discuss the proceedings casually in a public setting or among non-believers. The fact that only worthy members of the Church are permitted to enter the temple adds to a sense of suspicion on the part of non-believers. However, members believe that the practice is based on a desire to maintain the sacredness of the temple, rather than a wish to exclude anyone from the experience.


While husband and wife are considered to be equal partners in marriage, the traditional roles of the wife as mother and homemaker and the husband as the primary financial provider and head of the family are still encouraged as the basis of a strong family structure. The Church's strong opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment in the past was based on its belief that granting equal social and political rights to women would result in the disruption of these traditional patterns of family life. However, women may and do work outside of the home in a wide variety of occupations.

In some cases, women have found themselves at a disadvantage in the event of a divorce and/or cancellation of sealing. While the Church officially disapproves of divorce, a legal divorce or annulment is permitted in some cases as the end of a civil marriage. However, if the marriage had been sealed in the temple, the couple is still considered to be sealed to one another in celestial marriage. A cancellation of sealing, received from the president of the church, is necessary in order for an individual to be remarried within the temple. Without a cancellation of sealing, members who remarry in civil ceremonies are considered to be married for time only, not for eternity. There have been some cases in which women have reported more difficulties than men in receiving a cancellation of sealing (called a sealing clearance for men). There are several situations in which a man may more easily remarry within the temple. For instance, a widower may remarry and thus be sealed in celestial marriage to both his current and deceased wives. However, women have typically been permitted to be sealed to only one man. A woman who divorces and does not receive a cancellation of sealing may feel that she is at a spiritual disadvantage by not being permitted to remarry in the temple or by remaining sealed in a marriage against her wishes. Since celestial marriage is considered to be necessary in order for one to obtain eternal life, or exaltation, in the presence of God, all men and women are encouraged to marry, which leaves both single men and women at a spiritual disadvantage. Divorce is often diffi-cult financially on single mothers, since large families are encouraged and custody is generally granted to mothers in the event of a divorce.

Only men receive the ordinance of priesthood in the Church. Women take leadership roles organizing and teaching the Young Women and Primary classes. All adult women, age 18 and over, are generally members of the Relief Society, a worldwide women's organization that functions in connection with the priesthood. On the local level, the Relief Society serves to offer women instruction in home management and family development as well as on tenets of faith. It is through the Relief Society that most women participate in welfare service projects.


Green, Doyle L., and Randall L. Green. Meet the Mormons: A Pictorial Introduction to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Its People. Salt Lake City, UT.: Deseret Books, 1974.

Grolier's Multimedia Encyclopedia: Grolier, 1995.

Hughes, Dean, and Tom Hughes. Great Stories from Mormon History. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Books, 1994.

Ludlow, Daniel H., ed. Encyclopedia of Mormonism: The History, Scripture, Doctrine, and Procedures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. New York: Macmillan, 1992.

McKeever, Bill and Eric Johnson. Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.

Shipps, Jan. Mormonism, the Story of a New Religious Tradition. Urbana, IL.: University of Illinois Press, 1985.

Stegner, Wallace. Mormon Country. New York: Duell, Cloan & Pearce, 1942.

— — —. A Gathering of Zion. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (April 7, 2008).

Warner, James A. and Styne M. Slade. The Mormon Way. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1976.

Williams, Jean Kinney. The Mormons, The American Religious Experience. New York: Franklin Watts, 1996.

—revised by K. Ellicott


views updated May 23 2018


ETHNONYMS: Latter-day Saints, LDS, Saints


Identification. The Mormons are a religious-based cultural group founded in western New York State in 1830. They were one of a number of such groups founded in this part of the country during the first half of the nineteenth century. Others included the Shakers, Campbellites, the Oneida Community, and the Community of the Publick Universal Friend. All groups were based in part on a communal lifestyle or value system and a reemphasis of New England Puritan beliefs. Unlike the other groups, however, Mormonism has flourished and is now a worldwide religion. The name "Mormon" is commonly applied to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and splinter groups such as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (founded in 1860) and the Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonites). The Mormons apply the term Gentile to all those who are not members of the church and often refer to themselves as LDS or Saints.

Location. The majority of the Mormon population is located in the intermountain region of the western United States, especially in the state of Utah, in a distinct cultural Region labeled by cultural geographers as the Mormon Region. The region consists of a core, domain, and sphere. The core is the zone of the most dense, continuous Mormon population and runs about sixty-five miles north to south in the Wasatch Oasis, centered on Salt Lake City. The domain runs from the upper Snake River country of Idaho south to the lower Virgin River area and southeast Nevada and includes most of west-central Utah and sizable sections of southeast and northeast Utah. The sphere encompasses those areas where Mormons live in clustered communities within the general population. In addition to Utah, it includes parts of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Finally, many Mormons live among the general population, especially in urban areas, with sizable numbers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland. There are also significant numbers of members in South America, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania.

Demography. As of the 1980s the church claimed more than 5 million members around the world. Because of a high birth rate, longer than average life expectancy in the United States, and recruitment of new members through worldwide missionary work, the Mormon church has a very high growth rate. In 1989, there were about 4 million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the United States and over 200,000 in splinter groups.

Linguistic Affiliation. Mormons in the United States speak English and the basic church documents are written in English. In other nations, members usually speak the native language of the country or of their cultural group.

History and Cultural Relations

The church was officially organized in 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr., and five followers. Smith, known as "The Prophet," claimed to receive his authority and guidance through divine revelation, and he taught that he was the instrument through which God had restored the church instituted by Jesus Christ. He called others to join him in building the "City of Zion" in preparation for the second coming of Christ. The early years of the church were marked by a series of migrations as hostilities between Mormons and their non-Mormon neighbors caused the Mormons to abandon settlements and move westward. The first temple was built in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1836. In 1841 the group moved to Independence, Missouri, then to northern Missouri, and then across the Mississippi River to what became the Mormon settlement of Nauvoo. In 1844 Joseph Smith was killed by a Gentile mob in Illinois. His death was followed by a brief period of division and dissension within the church over the election of his successor.

Eventually the majority coalesced behind Brigham Young who headed the church until his death in 1877. Under his leadership the Mormons undertook their last forced Migration, arriving in the Salt Lake Valley of Utah in 1847. Young named the region "Deseret" and in 1849 sought recognition from the federal government as a state. Congress refused, and designated a much smaller region as Utah Territory. Troubles with the government, other settlers, and Indians continued, and in 1857, the U.S. Army was sent to the area to confront Young and the Mormons he had gathered together in Salt Lake City. The confrontation was Peaceful, though the federal presence was continued through the establishment of Fort Douglas overlooking Salt Lake City in the 1860s.

From this base the Mormons then spread and settled throughout the intermountain region, primarily through the formation of farming communities and towns. The church hierarchy played a key role in planning and organizing the settlement and development of this region. An important factor in the growth and development of the church and the Mormon settlement of the West was the large influx of migrants assisted by the church's Perpetual Emigrating Fund. Converts were actively sought and encouraged to migrate to Utah. It is estimated that between 1850 and 1900 the church helped some 90,000-100,000 people immigrate to the United States, primarily from England, Denmark, and Switzerland. Today, there are a number of counties within the Mormon region with markedly high Danish and Swissancestry populations.

The Mormons remained fairly isolated in Utah and adjacent areas until the late 1860s when mining, railroads, and manufacturing attracted non-Mormons to the area in ever-increasing numbers, leading once again to conflicts over Social, political, economic, and religious matters. Major issues included the church's role in political affairs, the church's financial holdings and policies, and polygynous marriage by Mormons. This time the U.S. government became actively involved, passing and enforcing legislation aimed at restricting the church's financial practices and Mormon polygyny. By the end of the nineteenth century, the church had made major concessions in its policies as an accommodation to the non-Mormon society within which it had to operate. The conflicts that marked Mormon-Gentile relations over the first seventy years of the church's existence then gave way to the peaceful relations that have existed since. By 1900 the Mormon region as it now exists was basically settled, with the possibility of future expansion limited by the surrounding Gentile settlements.


Mormon communities established in the 1800s in Utah and Mormon buildings displayed stylistic features that have been identified as uniquely Mormon. These included a N-S-E-W grid plan with large rectangular blocks, wide streets, roadside irrigation ditches, open fields around towns, cattle and sheep pastured together, unpainted farm buildings, red and lightbrown or white houses, brick houses, hay derricks, central-hall house plans, tree-lined streets, and Mormon-style chapels. Buildings constructed since about 1900 generally lack these features and more often reflect outside architectural and stylistic influences.


Commercial and Subsistence Activities. The Mormons are participants in the U.S. economy. Historically, however, the Mormons attempted to develop their own economic System and to achieve economic independence from non-Mormons. The Mormon economic ideal, based on the biblical notion of stewardship, was communal ownership. According to this ideal, church members would consecrate all their property and surplus earnings to the church. The church in turn would distribute to each member household that which it needed to survive. Although this ideal was never fully implemented, the values placed on communalism and Cooperation and the central economic function of the church were influential in Mormon economic activities and experiments. At present, Mormons in good standing give tithes (10 percent of their income) to the church and 2 percent to the ward, but private property is the norm. In the initial phases of settling the Utah territory, the development of irrigation and agriculture were of primary importance. Mormon leaders were also concerned with developing essential small-scale industries. As the U.S. economy has grown and industrialized, so has the economy of Utah. At present, the majority of Mormons work in industry, commerce, and the professions with agriculture remaining an important though secondary source of income.

The church is often reported to be enormously wealthy, although the actual value of church property and investments is unknown. Still, it is no secret that the church owns considerable real estate in the western and southern United States and a variety of businesses such as banks, insurance companies, hotels, newspapers, and radio stations. The church also has large expenses involved in constructing and maintaining church property and in supporting missionary activities around the world.

Division of Labor. Mormons have tended to follow societal norms with men working outside the home and women responsible for most domestic tasks. Since the beginning, Mormons have stressed sexual equality, and though women cannot be priests, they are actively involved in other church organizations. There is also an emphasis on age, as reflected in the power held by older men in the church hierarchy.

Land Tenure. Property rights are seen as a temporary trust held by humans as stewards for the Lord. Individual property ownership is the norm, with a strong value placed on communal effort under church authority.

Kinship, Marriage and Family

Marriage and Family. Mormons place high values on marriage and family and kinship ties, with large, close-knit, nuclear families the ideal. These values are supported by customs such as annual family reunions, weekly home nights for family activities, and group rather than individually oriented recreational activities. The practice of polygyny was a matter of church doctrine and commonly practiced in the nineteenth century. Harassment from non-Mormons and the U.S. government over the issue led church officials to renounce the teaching in 1890. The practice of polygyny persists among some fundamentalists, but they are subject to excommunication from the official church, and the overwhelming majority of Mormons are opposed to polygyny.

Socialization. Mormons stress education and have Perhaps the highest percentage of college graduates among their members of any religious group in the United States. Early Socialization takes place within the family, extended kin network, and church framework. Regular involvement in group activities with other Mormons is perhaps the most important activity. Many Mormons attend college at Brigham Young University, the largest church-affiliated university in the United States. High school and college programs are supplemented by seminary and institute programs, both designed to stress Mormon beliefs and values and to keep the adolescents involved in Mormon group activities.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The Mormons emphasize close relationships among church members and social distance Between themselves and nonmembers. The church sponsors a number of social groups and social occasions for its members. Particularly important groups are the church auxiliary Organizations such as the Women's Relief Society, the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association, and the Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association. These organizations combine social, recreational, educational, and religious functions. Although a formal class structure is absent within the church framework, wealth differences between Mormons or between families are noted, and those among the very wealthy enjoy access to the leaders of the church. Although Mormons, in a general sense, are part of the American class system, their self-identity as Mormons is far more important and takes precedence in social situations. The place of American Indians and African-Americans in the church for some time has been equivocal. Both groups are represented in the Membership, but not in the church hierarchy. Similarly, the leaders have always been men.

Political Organization. The organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is both lateral and Hierarchical and exceedingly complex. Laterally, the church is organized territorially into wards and stakes (called respectively branches and missions in areas where membership is too small to warrant full-scale organization). Wards are locallevel units, roughly equivalent to a parish, with an average of about six hundred members each and presided over by a ward bishop and his two counsellors. Wards are organized into stakes, with an average of about five thousand members each, which are governed by stake presidents, his two counsellors, and a stake Council. Above the stakes are the general authorities of the church, who include the First Presidence (the first president and his two counsellors), the Quorum of the Twelve (the Apostles), the First Council (the Council of the Seventies), the presiding bishopric, and the patriarch of the church. The first president is the apex of religious and administrative authority within the church. He is considered the successor to Joseph Smith, Jr., bears Smith's title"prophet, seer, and revelator"and holds office for life. When the office of the first president falls vacant, the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve succeeds to the office which he holds until he dies. Since the founding of the church, authority has rested with White males, a source of discord today, particularly among some women and African-American members.

Mormons have always been involved in local, state, and national politics and are a major force in Utah politics. They have usually managed to achieve a workable balance between loyalties to the state and to the church, both on the group and individual levels.

Social Control and Conflict. As noted above, it was not until about 1900 that Mormon conflicts with Gentiles and the federal government were resolved. Mormon relations with Indians (the Ute in Utah) were generally friendlier than Between Indians and other settlers. This arose mostly from the Mormons' belief that American Indians are of Hebraic origin and that one goal of Mormonism is to reconvert Indians to Christianity. The Mormons and the Ute were also allies in conflicts with non-Mormon settlers. The Mormons emphasize work and personal development and discourage activities such as alcohol and tobacco consumption that might interfere with that goal. Drinking coffee and tea are also discouraged. As marriage and the family are key social institutions, divorce and birth control are also discouraged, although neither is uncommon. In general, internal social control is achieved through lifelong involvement in Mormonism.


Religious Beliefs. The Mormon religion is based on Judeo-Christian Scriptures (the Old and New Testaments), the Book of Mormon, said to be a scriptural account of events in the New World between 600 b.c. and a.d. 421, and teaching believed to have come to their prophets through divine revelation as reported in the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. The Mormons believe in a three-person Godhead, the immortality of the human spirit, and salvation of the soul through baptism, proper behavior, and repentance of sin. They believe they have the "gifts" or powers outlined in the New Testament including those of healing, speaking in tongues, and prophecy. They also believe that Jesus Christ will return to rule the earth. Like many modern religions, there are conflicts within the church regarding religious interpretation and the degree of literalness with which the scriptures should be regarded.

Religious Practitioners. There is no professional Priesthood within the Mormon church. Rather, any "worthy" practicing Mormon male may become a priest when he reaches the age of twelve or so. There are two levels of the priesthood: the Aaronic, or lower, priesthood and the Melchizidek, or higher, priesthood. Ideally, boys enter the Aaronic priesthood at the age of twelve and move through the three offices within this priesthood (deacon, teacher, priest) by the age of twenty. "Worthy" adult males enter the Melchizidek priesthood, which also has three offices (elder, seventy, and high priest). Members of the higher priesthood have greater authority and wider ritual prerogatives than do members of the lesser Priesthood.

Ceremonies. Mormons believe that "worship is the voluntary homage of the soul." Religious services are relatively sedate and involve prayer, singing, and blessings. Baptism and the marriage ceremony are particularly important ceremonies, and individual prayer is a central element of many Mormons' lives. Private religious ceremonies may be more elaborate and emotional than public ones.


Arlington, Leonard J. (1966). Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Francaviglia, Richard V. (1978). The Mormon Landscape. New York: AMS Press.

Green, Doyle L., and Randall L. Green (1974). Meet the Mormons: A Pictorial Introduction to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Its People. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co.

Meinig, D. W. (1965). "The Mormon Culture Region: Strategies and Patterns in the Geography of the American West, 1847-1964." Annals of the Association of American Geographers 55:191-220.

O'Dea, Thomas F. (1957). The Mormons. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Shipps, Jan (1985). Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious

Tradition. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Talmage, James E. (1976). A Study of the Articles of Faith; Being a Consideration of the Principal Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 51st ed. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Turner, Wallace (1966). Mormon Establishment. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.


views updated May 14 2018


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, founded in New York state by Joseph Smith (1805–1844) in 1830, was the most controversial religion born in the United States during the religious revival of the early nineteenth century. Although the first half of its history was troubled, it is also the most successful religion to have originated in the Americas during the modern era. The period 1870–1920 marks the turbulent transition between the demonizing and the acceptance of Mormons (a nickname derived from their new scripture the Book of Mormon, published the year the church was founded). It also includes the religious, social, economic, and political transformation of the LDS church after 1890, when it took the first measures to give up the practice of plural marriage, or polygamy, under intense pressure from the federal government. That practice had become both its theological cornerstone and the object of the longest and most intense national campaign against any religious practice or organization in U.S. history.


The controversy surrounding Mormons had to do in part with their claim to be the only "true and restored" church of Jesus Christ (after centuries of "apostasy" in the institutional history of Christianity) and to have a new scripture that they claimed held equal status with the Bible as the word of God. Joseph Smith said he was led by an angel to ancient inscribed gold plates and was instructed to translate them. In this "New World scripture," which charts a thousand years of history on the North American continent, Christ speaks after his resurrection to the ancient inhabitants of the Americas, descendants of lost tribes of Israel who left Jerusalem and sailed to the New World in 587 B.C., when the chronicle begins. Audacious in its theology and distinguishing itself as surely from traditional Christian sects as early Christianity had distinguished itself from ancient Judaism, Mormonism made America central to the Christian historical narrative, from the location of the Garden of Eden to that of the millennial Kingdom of God, charting a global scriptural geography that explained the origin of American Indians and that positioned Latter-Day Saints (members of the restored church) as essential to the work of human salvation. Although Mark Twain (1835–1910) called the Book of Mormon "chloroform in print," and though the books about the Mormon scripture were written predominantly by defenders and critics of its historical and religious claims and of its authorship, it is also one of the most significant and unusual texts of the nineteenth century, the most imaginative exemplar of what Harold Bloom has called "the American religion." Terryl Givens has argued that the Book of Mormon is "perhaps the most religiously influential, hotly contested, and . . . intellectually underinvestigated book in America" (By the Hand of Mormon, p. 6).

Even more than their beliefs and scripture, however, it was the Mormons' theocratic organization, territorial presence (first in Ohio and Missouri, and more autonomously and militarily in Illinois and finally Utah Territory), their economic communalism, and especially their practice of polygamy that elicited outrage, suspicion, and political tension. After they fled persecution in Illinois and settled the Salt Lake Valley, the Mormons established a theocratic range of settlements they called "Deseret," after a name in the Book of Mormon, that reached as far as southern California and to which converts, predominantly from Britain and Scandinavia, emigrated before the Civil War, without the benefit of the transcontinental railroad (completed in Utah in 1869). National outrage over the Mountain Meadows Massacre on 11 September 1857, during which a group led by Mormon leaders killed approximately 140 men, women, and children passing through southern Utah on their way to California, made the event a touchstone of U.S.-Mormon tensions for years to come. Adding to those tensions were stories of a secret Mormon militia of "Destroying Angels" or "Danites," which made their way into popular culture in 1881 in Joaquin Miller's very popular frontier melodrama, The Danites in the Sierras. As Mark Twain described them, they were "Latter-day Saints who are set apart by the Church to conduct permanent disappearances of obnoxious citizens" (p. 85). The truth in these stories lay in a Mormon belief in blood atonement, but the church organization was both less tyrannical and more communal than the popular American stories made it seem.


While national attention on the Mormons diminished during the Civil War, they caught the attention of the young Mark Twain on his journey to Nevada with his brother in 1861. The literary embellishment of that experience is found in several chapters of his 1872 novel and travel narrative, Roughing It. Although wary of sensational journalism, Twain was an admirer of the tall tale, and the mysteries surrounding "the Mormon question," as he called it, were fertile ground for both fictional invention and journalistic skepticism. Of his short time in Salt Lake City, Twain said he and his party certainly acquired more information about the Mormons, "but we did not know what portion of it was reliable and what was not. . . . We were told, for instance, that the dreadful 'Mountain Meadows Massacre' was the work of the Indians entirely, and that the Gentiles had meanly tried to fasten it on the Mormons; we were told, likewise, that the Indians were to blame, partly, and partly the Mormons; and we were told . . . that the Mormons were almost if not wholly and completely responsible. . . . All our 'information' had three sides to it, and so I gave up the idea that I could settle the 'Mormon question' in two days. Still, I have seen newspaper correspondents do it in one" (pp. 116, 117).

Twain used hyperbole to tell a truth about the romantic fictions that shaped his own—and certainly his readers'—sense of exotic western lands. With his leveling satirical wit, he brought both Mormon religion and anti-Mormon mythologizing down to an appropriately human and outrageously humorous size. "There was fascination in surreptitiously staring at every creature we took to be a Mormon," he wrote. "This was fairyland to us . . . a land of enchantment, and goblins, and awful mystery. We felt a curiosity to ask every child how many mothers it had and if it could tell them apart." Twain wrote that because he and his party were there briefly, "we had no time to make the customary inquisition into the workings of polygamy and get up the usual statistics and deductions preparatory to calling the attention of the nation at large once more to the matter." The reform movement against polygamy would last nearly another fifty years. Polygamy was decried by Americans intent on ending a practice inimical to Christian civilization, but Twain parodied that Christian reformist impulse and turned it against itself (at Mormon women's expense): "I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a great reform here—until I saw the Mormon women. Then I was touched. My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly, and pathetically 'homely' creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, 'No—the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure—and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence'" (pp. 97–98). Twain's characterization of Mormon women was one of many, collectively contradictory attempts in popular fiction and periodical cartoons to portray or explain polygamy through its "victims" (see Bunker and Bitton, pp. 123–126).


Several Mormon church leaders had been practicing polygamy since 1841; in 1852 the church announced publicly its doctrine and practice of "the plurality of wives." (Mormon leaders called upon about 10 percent of the men to marry more than one wife; some refused.) In response, the antipolygamy reform movement was born and became, after antislavery, the most successful and widespread reform movement in the United States for the next half-century, spawning a literary genre to serve its purpose, the sensationalist antipolygamy novel. Drawing on the conventions of the captivity narrative, over one hundred such books were published in the United States—most of them claiming historical authenticity. Some sold more than 100,000 copies, such as Mrs. A. G. Paddock's The Fate of Madame La Tour: A Tale of the Great Salt Lake(1881). The practice was the chief reason that Utah was not admitted to the Union, despite several petitions over five decades. (A recurring counterpetition to amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit polygamy never succeeded.) The analogy with slavery (the other "twin relic of barbarism") turned on the question of Mormon women's consent, imagined to be as nonexistent as a slave's. Hence one of the conventions of the antipolygamy novel had a Mormon man either abduct or mesmerize a soon-to-be plural wife. The comparison also had sectional resonance, given the burning antebellum questions of states' rights and of whether western territories would be slaveholding or free. In her preface to the antipolygamy novel by Mrs. Stenhouse, Tell It All (1874), Harriet Beecher Stowe writes that now that "the slave-pens of the South have become a nightmare of the past, the hour is come to loose the bonds of a cruel slavery whose chains have cut into the very hearts of thousands of our sisters" (p. vi).

While Mormons identified Indians as descendants of ancient Hebrews, Americans often associated Mormons with a host of nonwhite and non-Christian peoples, nations, and religions: they were called "white Indians" and "white negroes," "the Islam of America," and "Confucians," among other appellations. These affiliations drew on the sense that polygamy was a non-Western, barbaric practice; that the presumed licentiousness driving polygamy implied that Mormon men had sexual drives like those ascribed to Africans or to Arab men in their harems; and that polygamy produced offspring with physical signs of racial degeneration. This racialization or casting of Mormons as non-Western also signaled one of the ideological ambitions of Manifest Destiny: conquest was justified in the battle between civilization and savagery. Seen not just as uncivilized but as a dire threat to American and Christian civilization itself, Mormons, Indians, and Asians (at times collective subjects of Western laws denying citizens' rights) could be viewed as more than just political rivals or targets: they could serve as foils for the highest ideals that the United States claimed to serve. The trope of captivity in popular antipolygamy fiction thus had national resonance—up to the silent film era and in the westerns of Zane Grey (1875–1939)—as a morally, even cosmically inflected dramatization of America's conquest and settlement of the West.

The Latter-Day Saints defended what they saw as their constitutional right to practice polygamy as a free exercise of religion; that right was put to the test when George Reynolds, a secretary to the second president of the church, Brigham Young (1801–1877), was tried and convicted of bigamy and appealed his case, which eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Reynolds v. United States (1878) was the first Supreme Court case to determine the legal meaning of a provision in the First Amendment. In siding with the federal system and against the domestic relations of local majorities, and in delimiting the meaning of "religion" in a religiously biased manner, Reynolds became one of the more controversial Court decisions in American history and has never been overturned.

After Brigham Young's death, two pieces of congressional legislation, the Edmunds Act of 1882 and the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, further eroded Mormon freedoms and spelled the demise of polygamy: the United States abolished the Mormon militia, disincorporated the Mormon Church (escheating most of its properties to the government), abolished female suffrage (a niece of Brigham Young's was the first American woman to vote), disenfranchised polygamists, and compelled wives to testify against their husbands. Prosecution for polygamy was permitted without a complaint by a spouse, and voters in 1887 were required to swear to uphold the Edmunds Act, which prohibited even verbal encouragement of polygamy. In its enforcement of these laws, the government jailed over a thousand polygamous men.

In 1890 the Mormon Church president Wilford Woodruff issued a manifesto instructing church members to obey U.S. law, and in 1896 Utah's request for statehood was granted. The manifesto marked the beginning of the end of the most distinctive aspects of social organization and religious practice in nineteenth-century Mormonism—and most important for American literary and political history, it marked a shift in the church's relation to the United States.


Despite the manifesto, some members of the Mormon hierarchy continued to marry polygamously, and in the first decade of the twentieth century, as governmental investigations increased in response to rumors about the continued practice of plural marriage, organized citizens, members of Congress, and the press revisited former fears and dire pronouncements about the fate of the nation should polygamy be allowed to persist. As late as 1911, for example, Theodore Roosevelt warned that the continuation of polygamy would "secure the destruction" of the Mormon Church. Following the admittance of Utah to the Union, the election of two Mormons to Congress—B. H. Roberts (a practicing polygamist before 1890) to the House in 1898 and Reed Smoot (1862–1941) to the Senate in 1904—incited petitions, congressional investigations, and a flurry of articles and cartoons raising the alarm about the infiltration into the Senate of what were widely suspected to be puppets of the Mormon hierarchy. In the cartoon, "The Real Objection to Smoot," in Puck magazine on 27 April 1904, the Mormon hierarchy is represented by a large patriarchal figure whose coat is patched with "Resistance to Federal Authority," "Murder of Apostates," "Mountain Meadows Massacre," and other Mormon crimes, including, most prominently, "Polygamy." He dangles a puppetlike Smoot before the door to the U.S. Senate. Although antipolygamy fervor had briefly diminished in the 1890s, it returned in a virulent form: Could Mormons be trusted politically and morally? Unlike Roberts, Smoot kept his seat and the political accommodation of the Mormons began to take shape.

Culturally, antipolygamy sentiment resurfaced briefly in 1911 with articles in several magazines and arguably helped produce a best-seller in 1912, when Zane Grey published Riders of the Purple Sage, one of the most influential westerns (because of its formula, not its Mormon antagonists). Although Grey went on to write dozens of westerns—only a handful dealing with Mormons—Riders of the Purple Sage was his most successful novel and the only one to depict Mormon polygamy and what the hero Lassiter calls the Mormon "empire" as a soulless evil. One sign of the assimilation of the Mormon Church into the nation was that, as a result of Mormons' objection to depictions of them in some of Grey's novels and in many silent films, a congressmen from Utah offered a legislated tax deal to Fox Pictures in 1918 if Fox would agree to omit any reference to Mormons in subsequent film versions of Zane Grey novels. That same year, Willa Cather's My Ántonia was published, in which Mormons are alluded to in ways previously uncharacteristic: the narrator asserts that dirt roads bordered with sunflowers—believed to have been planted by Mormon pioneers along the trail as they fled persecution—for him represent the roads to freedom. Perhaps alluding to the catastrophe of imperial collisions in World War I, the novel also depicts two bulls constantly ramming their heads together. Their names are "Gladstone"—after the nineteenth-century British prime minister who argued for Irish home rule—and "Brigham Young."

see alsoAnnexation and Expansion; Courtship, Marriage, and Divorce; Frontier; Violence


Primary Works

Cather, Willa. My Ántonia. 1918. Edited by Charles W. Mignon, with Kari Ronning. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.

Grey, Zane. Riders of the Purple Sage. 1912. Introduction and notes by William R. Handley. New York: Modern Library, 2002.

Miller, Joaquin. The Danites in the Sierras. Chicago: Jansen, McClurg, 1881.

Stenhouse, Mrs. T. B. H. Tell It All: The Story of aLife's Experience in Mormonism. Hartford, Conn.: Worthington, 1874.

Switzer, Jennie Bartlett. Elder Northfield's Home; or,Sacrificed on the Mormon Altar. New York: J. Howard Brown, 1882.

Twain, Mark. Roughing It. 1872. Vol. 2 of The Works ofMark Twain. Edited by Harriet Elinor Smith and Edgar Marquess Branch. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Secondary Works

Alexander, Thomas G. Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-Day Saints, 1890–1930. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Bagley, Will. Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and theMassacre at Mountain Meadows. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.

Bentley, Nancy. "Marriage as Treason: Polygamy, Nation, and the Novel." In The Futures of American Studies, edited by Donald E. Pease and Robyn Wiegman, pp. 341–370. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002.

Brooks, Juanita. The Mountain Meadows Massacre. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963.

Bunker, Gary L., and Davis Bitton. The Mormon GraphicImage, 1834–1914: Cartoons, Caricatures, and Illustrations. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983.

Firmage, Edwin Brown, and Richard Collin Mangrum. Zion in the Courts: A Legal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1830–1900. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

Givens, Terryl. By the Hand of Mormon: The AmericanScripture that Launched a New World Religion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Givens, Terryl. The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Gordon, Sarah Barringer. The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Handley, William R. "Distinctions without Differences: Zane Grey and the Mormon Question." Arizona Quarterly 57, no. 1 (2001): 1–33.

Hardy, B. Carmon. Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992.

O'Dea, Thomas. The Mormons. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957.

Quinn, D. Michael. The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins ofPower. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994.

Shipps, Jan. Mormonism: The Story of a New ReligiousTradition. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985.

William R. Handley


views updated Jun 11 2018


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established in 1830. By the year 2000, there were more than 11 million church members, who are commonly referred to as Latter-day Saints (LDS) or Mormons. International expansion of the church has been significant since 1960 when 90 percent of the membership lived in the United States. In 1999, only 12 percent of Latter-day Saints lived in Utah, the world headquarters of the church; 52 percent of members lived outside the United States in more than 160 countries. South America, Central America, and Mexico contain more than 60 percent of new church members; 9 percent also come from Asian countries (Heaton 1992). In 2000, the church reached an historic milestone of having more non-English-speaking than English-speaking members (Todd 2000).

Mormon Beliefs and Practices

One of the distinctive aspects of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the centrality of marriage and the family in its theological doctrine. The church teaches that all humankind are brother and sister—literally spiritual offspring of heavenly parents—and that life on earth ideally follows this heavenly pre-earth pattern. One of the church's primary purposes is to teach family ideals and preserve traditional family relationships through gospel ordinances, including eternal marriage. "The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. . . . Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ" (The Family 1995, p.102).

Eternal marriage. Most prominent among Mormon family-centered beliefs is the conviction that the family unit can be eternal. Eternal marriage is necessary to fulfill one's highest spiritual potential as a son or daughter of God. To achieve this goal, couples must have their wedding performed in a Latter-day Saint temple (or have their marriage solemnized in a temple, if they were previously married elsewhere). In temples, authorized temple workers join couples in matrimony "for time and all eternity" rather than "till death do us part." This highest of all temple rites, temple sealing, symbolizes that the husband and wife become bound to each other in a union that even death cannot dissolve. If couples remain true to their spiritual covenants, they are promised that their marriage can last throughout eternity.

Those who never married during their lives or who never had their marriage solemnized in a temple may still have an eternal marriage. Although Jesus taught that individuals do not marry in the next life, the Mormon doctrine holds that he has provided a way for the living to do this work vicariously for the deceased. The Church is known for its vast genealogical resources that help Latter-day Saint members identify ancestors for whom essential ordinances (like baptism or the temple sealing) were never performed. Members stand as temple proxies for those who did not receive the ordinances during life. This work for the dead is a critical aspect of salvation: "For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation . . ." (Doctrine and Covenants 128:15). The Mormon belief is that God provides opportunities for all of his children, alive and deceased, to receive these essential ordinances.

Premarital preparation. Latter-day Saint youth are encouraged to prepare for future temple sealing. They are counseled to avoid dating before the age of sixteen. They are taught to reserve sex for marriage because premarital and extramarital sex is a violation of the sacred use of one's sexuality. Latter-day Saint youth have lower rates of premarital sex than do their peers who are not Latter-day Saints (Heaton, Goodman, and Holman 1994). LDS youth are also cautioned against activities that may negatively affect their desire and spiritual worthiness to serve as missionaries when they reach young adulthood.

For a period of eighteen to twenty-four months, young men and women in their late teens and early twenties postpone their personal interests (including dating) to devote their time entirely to gospel teaching. The experience of missionary service can be life-altering, giving young people a more solid foundation upon which to build a successful marriage and family (Parry 1994). Allen W. Litchfield, Darwin L. Thomas, and Bing Dao Li (1997) found that private religious behavior, rather than public practice, is the best predictor of future religious plans. LDS missions were found to facilitate internalization of religious values.

Gender roles and parenthood. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that gender roles of men and women are distinct but equal. Fathers preside as the providers and protectors of their families. Mothers are the primary caregivers to nurture children with love, sensitivity, and spirituality. Men are taught that their highest calling is their role as a father. Fathers bless, heal, comfort, and guide their family members. Likewise, nothing in a woman's life is to take higher priority than family responsibilities.

Though separate, male and female gender roles complement one another. Spouses are encouraged to help one another as equals. Similarly, raising children is a sacred stewardship, a privilege that draws couples nearer to God and brings life's greatest blessings and responsibilities. The church does not give specific direction to couples about the number and spacing of children, including contraceptive use in family planning. The church also does not teach that sexual intimacy in marriage is only for procreation. Couples are taught that they should welcome children into their family circle. As a result, the Latter-day Saints are known as a childbearing people, with higher fertility rates than couples who are not Latter-day Saints (Heaton 1986). In cross-national comparisons on fertility, Tim B. Heaton (1989) found that although pronatalism is a persistent theme in Mormonism, "the expression of that theme is different in each country" (p. 410).

Myths about Mormon Beliefs and Practices

Since many of the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about marriage and family are unique, misunderstanding and confusion about Mormon beliefs and practices may arise. Some of the myths about the church include those of polygamy and subjugation of women.

Polygamy. One of the church's "most controversial and least understood" (Bachman and Esplin 1992, p. 1091) practices was the polygamous marriage of a man to more than one wife, which was practiced in the church as early as the 1840s. Mormons, like the ancient patriarchs of biblical times, practiced plural marriage in obedience to God. Church leaders strictly regulated plural marriage within its membership. It was not a license for illicit sexual relationships; only 20 to 25 percent of LDS adults practiced polygamy. "At its height, plural marriage probably involved only a third of the women reaching marriageable age" (Bachman and Esplin 1992, p. 1095).

Latter-day Saints believed that the practice of plural marriage was protected under the United States Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion. However, the United States Supreme Court in 1890 upheld the antipolygamy policies of the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887. Civil rights were denied to people living in polygamous unions; fines and imprisonment were imposed; Mormons were barred from public office and voting. The Edmunds-Tucker Act disincorporated the church and authorized confiscation of church properties. Seizure of Latter-day Saint temples was threatened. The church faced political and economic destruction (Davis 1992).

President Wilford Woodruff in the Manifesto of 1890 (Official Declaration 1) formally discontinued the church practice of polygamy. Members accepted discontinuance of the practice of plural marriage as the will of God. Since the early 1900s, those within the church who enter into polygamous marriages have been subject to excommunication.

Subjugation of women. One of the unique beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that neither gender can obtain the highest ordinances and spiritual blessings without the other. Husband and wife receive these highest temple ordinances "together and equally, or not at all" (Nelson 1999, p.38). Neither man nor woman can attain their full divine potential without the other. Linking the woman with the man in marriage is perceived by some as relegation of women to the private rather than the public sphere and is interpreted as patriarchal subjugation of women (Corn-wall 1994).

From the earliest days of the church, both women and men have participated in all church matters presented to the membership for vote (Smith and Thomas 1992). Although Utah women were enfranchised in 1870, the antipolygamy Edmonds-Tucker Act of 1887 disenfranchised all Utah women. It was believed that Utah women were oppressed by patriarchy and would vote as instructed by their husbands. Mormon women joined with eastern suffragists, such as Susan B. Anthony, to oppose the section of the antipolygamy legislation that repealed Utah women's suffrage. In 1896, Utah became the third state to join the Union with equal voting rights for women (Madsen 1992).

Marie Cornwall (1994) purports that there was more institutional responsibility and autonomy for women in early Mormonism. She suggests that the church's "hierarchical structure and emphasis on distinct gender roles restricts women's contribution, assigns them to a particular sphere, and adds to their silence and invisibility" (p. 262). Lawrence R. Iannaccone and Carrie A. Miles (1990) examined how the church responded to U.S. women's change in gender roles and conclude that "the Church has managed to accommodate change without appearing to abandon its ideals . . . [and to] exercise flexibility in practice while maintaining purity of doctrine" (p. 1245).

Although the stereotypic image of the Mormon woman is that of the "unquestioning and dutiful housewife," the reality is more complex. Not all LDS women fit the stereotype. Rather, they vary in political beliefs, party affiliations, and attitudes toward authority (Presley, Weaver, and Weaver 1986). LDS women differentially find ways to negotiate their identity and place in religious congregations and society. "To view the religious participation of LDS women in a static manner would fail to capture the rich diversity of the different ways in which they exercise agency at multiple levels, and in diverse ways over the course of their lives" (Beaman 2001, p. 84).

Although employment participation rates for LDS women have been found to be similar to the national average, research by Bruce A. Chadwick and H. Dean Garrett (1995) supports "the hypothesis that religiosity, as measured by beliefs and private worship, is moderately related to lower employment among LDS women" (p. 288). Employment by LDS women is also related to lower participation in religious activities. This should not be interpreted however to "mean that all religious women are housewives or that all employed women have lost their faith and left the church. . . . [Some women are able to] maintain their religiosity in spite of the time demands of full-time employment" (p. 291).

Strengthening LDS Families

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is unapologetic in declaring its divine mandate to preserve what it views as the traditional family unit. The ideal family composition is believed to be a faithful husband and wife sealed eternally together with their children in the temple, who then each lovingly magnify their divinely appointed gender roles (Scott 2001). However, as church membership becomes increasingly international, family structure is becoming more diverse. For example, statistics show that the idealized family sealed in the temple describes only one in five LDS families in the United States and less than 5 percent of LDS families in Mexico (Heaton 1992). To nurture the ideal LDS family, the church doubled its number of operating Latter-day Saint temples worldwide from fifty temples in 1997 to one hundred temples in 2000. With the complexity and challenges of present-day reality, no family lives perfectly true to the ideal. Adaptations are required due to individual circumstances, such as divorce, disability, or death (The Family 1995).

Despite falling short of the ideal, research (Heaton, Goodman, and Holman 1994) finds that Mormons, compared to other U.S. families, are more likely to marry, less likely to divorce, less likely to have cohabited, and more disapproving of extramarital sex. Other comparisons, however, show similarities between Mormons and those of other religious traditions in marital interaction, time spent with children, evaluation of roles, disagreement, and conflict.

The church holds up the ideal, counseling its members to reach toward it through obedience to gospel principles (Scott 2001). The church, however, does not only teach principles; it provides support and resources to assist families to approach the ideal. This is consistent with cautions raised decades earlier by Darwin L. Thomas (1983) as he looked to the future of the Mormon family. He recommended that the church provide additional support and resources to families coping with the strain of increasing differences between Mormon beliefs and contemporary societal beliefs.

Latter-day Saints are taught to integrate gospel principles into everyday family life, through daily family prayer and scripture study. Families are encouraged to gather on Monday nights for family home evening to participate in spiritual and educational lessons, music, family activities, fun, planning, and councils to build family unity and to solve special challenges and needs. In addition to receiving regular instruction at church and in other meetings, Latter-day Saints receive monthly personal contacts from assigned home visitors offering teachings and support in fulfilling family duties. All age groups in the church are further supported through activities in their respective priesthood quorums and auxiliaries. Leaders counsel, assess special needs, and match Latter-day Saint members with resources that support family growth. Church resources supplement the self-reliant efforts of individuals and families to meet their own family needs. Families take care of themselves and share their resources in caring for others in need.

Promoting Family Well-Being Worldwide

The church not only supports Latter-day Saint families with its programs and activities, but it also promotes traditional family well-being worldwide. One of the church's initial family outreach efforts was its public service radio and television spots advocating for family solidarity. These continuing messages, entitled Homefront, began in 1971 and have helped establish the church worldwide as a pro-family proponent. The church's promotion of family well-being has become bolder, despite criticism and hostility by some individuals and groups. For example, O. Kendall White, Jr., (1986) identifies the Mormon belief that neither the man or woman is complete without the other as the ideology that places the church in opposition to modern feminist and gay social movements.

The church believes it has a God-given mandate to preserve the traditional family unit worldwide. Church President Gordon B. Hinckley defends the church's opposition to efforts to legalize same-sex marriage: "This is not a matter of civil rights; it is a matter of morality. ...We believe that defending this sacred institution by working to preserve traditional marriage lies clearly within our religious and constitutional prerogatives. Indeed, we are compelled by our doctrine to speak out" (1999, p. 52).

As responsible citizens, church members are encouraged to voluntarily join with other like-minded religious and secular groups in coalitions to advocate and defend the traditional family through donation of time, talent, and means. Church members have been key players in national and international efforts to promote traditional marriage and family. Such efforts include the Defense of Marriage Act legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in 1996 and the establishment of the Family Studies Center and the World Family Policy Center at the church-sponsored Brigham Young University (Wardle, Williams, and Wilkins 2001).

The leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints warn its members and the world that "[d]isintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets. . . . We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society" (The Family 1995, p. 102).

See also:Religion


bachman, d. w., and esplin, r. k. (1992). "plural marriage." encyclopedia of mormonism, vol. 3. new york: macmillan.

beaman, l.g. (2001). "molly mormons, mormon feminists and moderates: religious diversity and the latter day saints church." sociology of religion 62(1):65–86.

chadwick, b. a., and garrett, h. d. (1995). "women's religiosity and employment: the lds experience." review of religious research 36(3):277–293.

cornwall, m. (1994). "the institutional role of mormon women." in contemporary mormonism: social science perspectives, ed. m. cornwall, t. b. heaton, and l.a. young. chicago: university of illinois.

davis, r. j. (1992). "antipolygamy legislation." encyclopedia of mormonism, vol. 1. new york: macmillan.

the doctrine and covenants, section 128:15; official declaration 1.

"the family: a proclamation to the world." (1995). ensign (november):102.

heaton, t. b. (1986). "how does religion influence fertility? the case of mormons." journal for the scientific study of religion 25(2):248–58.

heaton, t. b. (1989). "religious influences on mormon fertility: cross-national comparisons." review of religious research 30(4):401–411.

heaton, t. b. (1992). "vital statistics." encyclopedia ofmormonism,vol. 4. new york: macmillan.

heaton, t. b.; goodman, k. l.; and holman, t. b. (1994). "in search of a peculiar people: are mormon families really different?" in contemporary mormonism: social science perspectives, ed. m. cornwall, t. b. heaton, and l. a. young. chicago: university of illinois.

hinckley, g. b. (1999). "why we do some of the things we do." ensign (november):52.

iannaccone, l. r., and miles, c.a. (1990). "dealing with social change: the mormon church's response to change in women's roles." social forces 68(4):1231–1250.

litchfield, a. w.; thomas, d. l.; and li, b. d. (1997). "dimensions of religiosity as mediators of the relations between parenting and adolescent deviant behavior." journal of adolescent research 12(2):199–226.

madsen, c. c. (1992). "woman suffrage." encyclopedia ofmormonism, vol. 4. new york: macmillan.

nelson, r. m. (1999). "our sacred duty to honor women." ensign (may):38.

parry, k. (1994). "the mormon missionary companionship." in contemporary mormonism: social science perspectives, ed. m. cornwall, t. b. heaton, and l. a. young. chicago: university of illinois.

presley, s.; weaver, j.; and weaver, b. (1986). "traditional and nontraditional mormon women: political attitudes and socialization." women and politics 5(4):51–77.

scott, r. g. (2001). "first things first." ensign (may):6.

smith, b. b., and thomas, s. w. (1992). "gospel principles and the roles of women." encyclopedia of mormonism. vol. 4. new york: macmillan.

thomas, d. l. (1983). "family in the mormon experience." in families and religions: conflict and change in modern society, ed. w. v. d'antonio and j. aldous. beverly hills, ca: sage.

todd, j. m. (2000). "news of the church." ensign (september):76.

wardle, l. d; williams, r. n; and wilkins, r. g. (2001). "defending marriage and family through law and policy." in strengthening our families: an in-depth look at the proclamation on the family strenthening our families, ed. d. c. dollahite. salt lake city, ut: bookcraft.

white, o. k., jr. (1986). "ideology of the family in nineteenth-century mormonism." sociological spectrum 6:289–306.



Latter-Day Saints, Church of Jesus Christ of

views updated May 23 2018


LATTER-DAY SAINTS, CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF. The Mormon Church traces its origins to founder Joseph Smith's vision of 1820, which upheld the view that no existing church had "right" doctrine. Mormonism avowed a belief in the Trinity but denied original sin. It stressed faith in Jesus Christ, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Spirit. While it accepted the Bible as the word of God, Smith's discovery of an alternative scripture, the Book of Mormon, provided an account

of an Israelite prophet, Lehi, who was commanded by God in 600 b.c. to lead a small group of people to the American continent. It also recorded the appearance of Christ, after his Resurrection, to the people in America. Early Mormonism held that there would be a literal gathering of Israel to the United States and that Zion would be built upon the American continent. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) was organized on 6 April 1830.

The Early Years

The new Church settled in Ohio, where it fostered a communitarian lifestyle, created a collective religious leadership, and launched the first mission to England in 1837. It then moved to Missouri, where political and religious controversy led to the Mormon War of 1838. The Saints withdrew to Illinois where they established the new city of Nauvoo in 1840, an agricultural rather than a commercial center. At Nauvoo, the Relief Society was established in 1842 to improve community morals. During this period, Joseph Smith also received a revelation, enjoining members of the Church to practice plural marriage (polygamy), based on precedents from the Old Testament.

Nauvoo and the Migration

While the Mormons engaged in Illinois politics, sympathy for the idea of a Mormon kingdom in the West increased during the early 1840s. After the governor of Illinois ordered a trial of the Church leadership for the destruction of the press of a newspaper critical to Mormonism, Joseph Smith and his brother were murdered in Carthage, Illinois, on 27 June 1844. The state legislature revoked the Nauvoo charter in January 1845 and the Church announced plans for removal in September 1845. In 1846, 12,000 Saints left Illinois, dedicating the Nauvoo Temple before their departure, and the Pioneer Company reached the Salt Lake Valley on 24 July 1847. The state of Deseret was established in January 1849 as the civil government of the territory.

Settling Utah

In 1850, LDS Church President Brigham Young sought statehood within the United States, but this was blocked in Congress, and territorial status was accepted in 1851. Young encouraged colonization to the south of Salt Lake City and along the Wasatch Front, where communities were organized to encourage community life and religious activity, with common pastures and the cooperative raising of grain. Missionaries were sent to Latin America and Europe, and the notion of the Gathering of Zion (the migration of converts to Utah) was fostered by means of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund in the late 1850s. Given the Church's political dominance, tensions soon arose with federally appointed officials. President James Buchanan sent a force to Utah in 1857, in the face of protests about Brigham Young's dictatorial rule. Young recalled distant colonists, declared martial law, and forbade the entry of federal troops and in June 1858 a peace formula was negotiated.

The Church in the Nineteenth Century

During the Civil War the Latter-day Saints remained generally loyal to the Union. After the war, mining and cotton production developed in southern Utah and railroad connections in 1869 broke down the territory's isolation. A new Mormon cooperative system discouraged trade with outsiders, and after the depression of 1873, an effort was made to foster strongly collectivist cooperative organizations, called the United Orders, but these did not endure. A movement to Arizona and Wyoming took place in the late 1870s, and Mormons settled in Mexico in 1886. By 1880, the Church had 134,000 members, 80 percent of whom lived in Utah. Missionary work was pursued in Mexico, Polynesia, and the domestic United States, though Mormons faced violent reprisals in the American South. Missions increased between 1890 and 1900, as 6,125 missionaries were sent out, but immigration to Utah was discouraged after 1890.

The War Against Polygamy

In the late 1860s, a war against polygamy was unleashed in Utah Territory and other parts of the West inhabited by Latter-day Saints. The anti-Mormon Liberal Party was formed in Utah in 1870 to oppose LDS political and economic dominance, while James McKean, chief justice of Utah Territory, launched a campaign to prosecute those who practiced polygamy, including Brigham Young. In Reynolds v. United States (1879) the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862. Non-Mormons in Utah called for resolute action on polygamy and the Edmunds Act of 1882 assured penalties for polygamy and disenfranchised twelve thousand Saints. Over one thousand men were sent to jail in Utah, and similar prosecutions took place in Idaho and Arizona. Five years later, the Edmunds-Tucker Act threatened to destroy the Church by dissolving it as a legal corporation, a move upheld by the Supreme Court in 1890. Fearful that all members of the Church would be disenfranchised, President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto against polygamy in 1890, accepted willingly by most Mormons, and a new understanding was reached with the federal authorities.

The Church in the Progressive Era

In the early twentieth century, the LDS Church displayed a greater readiness to become involved in the affairs of the nation. In 1903, Apostle Reed Smoot was elected to the Senate despite charges of disloyalty to the nation. The Church solved its debt problem with bond issues and curtailed its direct involvement in business ventures. Established missions were strengthened and a new training system for missionaries established. Signs of Mormon integration came with the increasing national popularity of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Church's support for national prohibition after 1916, and its contributions to

the war effort. During World War I, twenty-four thousand Latter-day Saints enlisted in the armed forces, the Church and its auxiliaries bought $1.4 million worth of Liberty bonds, and the Relief Society sold its store of wheat to the government.

The Response to the Depression

During the 1920s, the agricultural depression drove many Saints to the cities and made them a more urban people. The Church's Relief Society created a Social Welfare Department in 1919, and the Church began to undertake more intensive studies of social problems and foster cooperation with some secular agencies. The coming of the Great Depression in 1929, therefore, did not catch the Church entirely unprepared. Although opposed to the dole, it did not condemn federal work relief. A survey of need was carried out in 1933 and local units were urged to create community enterprises. In 1936, the Church launched the Welfare Plan under Harold B. Lee, reviving the idea of the bishop's storehouse and calling on local units to establish coordinating committees. An exchange system was formed and make-work projects created where necessary, based around agriculture. This provided positive publicity for the Church, and even progressive periodicals like Time and The Nation started to reflect a more positive view of Mormon life.

An International Church

During World War II, one hundred thousand Mormons entered the armed forces, and the LDS Serviceman's Committee was organized to provide programs and guidelines for them. Missionary activity was resumed in 1946, and by 1950, there were five thousand missionaries, twelve hundred of them in Europe. A new sense of internationalism was evident, with the shift of missionaries to Asia. Efforts also were made to keep young men and women involved in church life through recreational activity, and seminary involvement grew from 28,600 to 81,400. Student wards were created in university towns, enabling students for the first time to hold church offices. A new churchwide home teaching program was begun in 1964, with priesthood holders expected to get to know the families in their charges, and the family home evening program was launched in 1965. By the end of the 1960s, the church had achieved a membership of 2.8 million, with new growth in Latin America and seventeen thousand missionaries in the field.

The Latter-day Saints Today

In politics, the Church shifted sharply to the right during the 1960s, although Apostle Hugh Brown supported some social welfare programs and was a Democratic candidate for U.S. senator. By the late 1970s, however, the Church eschewed direct political participation in favor of taking stands opposed to the Equal Rights Amendment, legalized abortion, and gambling. In 1978, LDS Church President Spencer Kimball received a revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy male believers (prior to this date, black males had been excluded from the otherwise universal male priesthood), solving the problem of the priesthood in South America and Africa as well as the United States. In 1998, LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley stated that church members who practiced polygamy risked excommunication, but the Church was drawn uncomfortably into the spotlight in 2000 when Tom Green of Utah was prosecuted on charges of polygamy. The Church in the 1990s, led by President Hinckley since 1995, was an expanding force, though more outside the United States than within it, with over five million members in 1998.


Alexander, Thomas G. Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-Day Saints, 1890–1930. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Allen, James B., and Glen M. Leonard. The Story of the Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Books, 1992.

Bushman, Claudia L., and Richard L. Bushman. Building the Kingdom: a History of Mormons in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Gottlieb, Robert, and Peter Wiley. America's Saints: The Rise of Mormon Power. San Diego, Calif.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986.

Mauss, Armand L. The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

Quinn, D. Michael, ed. The New Mormon History: Revisionist Essays on the Past. Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1992.

Shipps, Jan. Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985.


See alsoMormon Battalion ; Mormon Expedition ; Mormon Trail ; Nauvoo, Mormons at .

Latter-Day Saints, Church of Jesus Christ of

views updated Jun 27 2018


Also called the Mormon Church, founded in upstate New York on April 6, 1830, by Joseph smith (180544), who reported divine visitations. In 1830 he published the Book of Mormon, claiming to have translated it from plates of gold given him by the angel Moroni, purportedly a record of God's dealings with the ancestors of the American Indians, alleged to have been Hebrews who came in three migrations to the New World. Mormonism was one product of the religious revivalism and turmoil characteristic of upstate New York in that period.

Historical Development. From 1831, with the founding of a Mormon community at Kirtland, Ohio, to 1844, when Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob in Carthage, Ill., the church had a stormy history. In those years, four attempts were made to build a community embodying Mormon ideals and giving expression to the group's separate existence. At Kirtland, the effort led to financial disaster. At Independence and Far West, Mo., two more attempts were made. After some success, the Mormons attracted the opposition of their neighbors and were driven out in violence and bloodshed. Their initial successes, northern manners, religious peculiarities, claims to make the area a holy land of their religion, and favorable attitudes toward the indigenous peoples combined to elicit Missourian hostility. They were driven from Independence in the winter of 183334 and went into Clay County, from which they were shortly asked to leave. In Far West, which they then founded, a similar pattern of success, hostility, and expulsion followed. Joseph Smith estimated losses of $2 million in Missouri, and the final expulsion in a small-scale "Mormon War" cost some 40 lives, all but one or two of them Mormon.

Mormon efforts in the Middle West were most successful on the east bank of the Mississippi River in Illinois at Nauvoo, which soon became an attractive city of about 15,000. This accomplishment issued in a second "Mormon War." In Nauvoo, rumors concerning the secret practice of polygamy contributed to antagonism, as did the palpable evidence of Mormon size and power. In the violence that ensued, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were murdered by the mob, and after considerable tension and some open fighting, the Mormons were driven out. They commenced evacuation of Nauvoo in sub-zero weather in February of 1846.

There followed a period of discouragement and dissension. Several groups broke off at this time, one of which later formed the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Brigham young (180177) took over the church leadership and organized migration across Iowa to the banks of the Missouri River, where he established winter quarters. After a season of great suffering, Young organized the Mormon trek to the West, and on April 7, 1847, he left with a party of 148 for the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, Utah. They arrived on July 22, and two days later Young entered the valley.

Thus began the Mormon migration to and settlement of the intermountain region. Thousands came by wagon train, handcart, and later by railroad. The Mormons developed their settlement on a planned basis, and the church "called" people to establish communities in irrigable valleys throughout the region. By the time of Young's death in 1877, the Mormons had established 357 Settlements, and Utah had a Mormon population of about 140,000. Settlement and emigration continued. By 1900 some 90,000 immigrant converts had been brought from Europe.

The Mormon communities succeeded in Utah, but the conflict with gentile opinion and government authorities continued. When in 1857 Pres. James Buchanan sent Federal troops under Gen. A. S. Johnston, the issue nearly came to open conflict. Gradually the lines of antagonism were drawn around the two issues of Utah's admission to the Union and polygamy, which had been practiced openly in Utah since 1852. In 1863 Congress passed the Morrill Law, forbidding polygamy, which the Supreme Court upheld in 1879. In 1882 the Edmunds Act was passed, followed in 1887 by the Edmunds-Tucker Act. These laws were more stringent; the latter dissolved the church as a corporation. Anti-Mormon sentiment was aroused among the small but significant non-Mormon group in Utah, and in the nation generally. With about 200 members in jail, the Mormons capitulated and in the constitutional convention of 1887 supported the outlawing of polygamy. In September of 1890, Church President Wilford Woodruff (180798) renounced polygamy as effective church teaching, and in 1896 Utah was admitted to the Union. There followed a period of accommodation, and Mormonism strove for and achieved acceptance and respectability. However, a small dissident and excommunicated sect advocating and practicing polygamy continues to exist in Utah.

Mormonism's most striking achievement was settlement of the arid terrain of the intermountain West. This achievement finds its most appropriate monument in the establishment of irrigation as the basis for agriculture. The Mormons displayed both the cooperation and the discipline necessary for this accomplishment. By 1865 there were over 1,000 miles of canals in Utah, and by 1946, some 8,750 miles.

Basic Doctrinal Position. Mormonism is based upon Joseph Smith's claim that contemporary revelation began with his divine election as prophet-founder of the Mormon Church. The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, alleged revelations of the founder, are accepted, with the Bible, as scripture. The first claims to be a miraculously translated pre-Columbian scripture; the second contains revelations announced by Joseph from time to time, including that establishing polygamy; the third allegedly contains lost parts of the Pentateuch, some of which was transcribed by Smith from papyri, Smith's writings, and articles of Mormon belief.

While the Book of Mormon is a work obviously Christian in tenor, the later teachings introduced a number of innovations. These include the doctrine of human existence in a previous spirit world, a finite developing God, baptism for the dead, an interpretation of the Trinity as tritheism, marriage for time and eternity, humanity's eternal progression to god-like status, and polygamy. Mormonism emphasizes worldly virtues of a distinctively American kind: optimism, self-improvement, hard work, and respect for law. Recreation is highly valued and organized by the church, and abstinence from coffee, tea, tobacco, and liquor is enjoined. The importance of the family is stressed. The Mormons also hold that the U.S. enjoys a special providential position in the world and that its Constitution has been divinely inspired. Millennialism has long been an integral part of Mormon doctrine, and in one form or another remains of some significance.

Organizational Structure. Church structure is complex with a hierarchical priesthood embracing all males deemed worthy. There are two levels of priesthood: the lesser Aaronic priesthood with its stages of deacon, teacher, priest, and bishop; and the Melchizedek order, which contains two higher ranksseventies, to which men are advanced after mission experience, and high priest. Important leaders on all levels are high priests. For a long time, admission to the priesthood was only opened to white European males, and this caused some internal protest and complications in external relations. In 1978, this decision was reversed, and it was held that "all worthy male members of the church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color."

The local unit is the ward; several wards comprise a stake. The ward is led by an unpaid leader who is called a bishop and is assisted by two counselors, this triumvirate form being characteristic of all offices of executive importance. While there is great rank-and-file participation, direction is centralized and authority comes strictly from the top down. Most officers are unpaid. At the top is the church presidency made up of the First President and his two counselors and the Council of the Twelve Apostles, which has selected a number of assistants. The top 24 officials are known as the General Authorities. The church is highly organized and characterized by tremendous activism. Large numbers of young men and some young women go on two-year missions at their own expense. The church conducts a large welfare organization that farms land by volunteer labor; it also has a Genealogical Society connected with temple work for the dead that activates many older people.

The Mormon Church continues to grow, and by the end of the 20th century it had more than five million members. The church is a dominant influence in Utah, where it represents a bulwark of conservatism and has contributed people of importance nationally in a wide number of fields. It is supported by payment of tithes and has large business investments.

Bibliography: w. a. linn, The Story of the Mormons (New York 1902). l. l. bennion, The Religion of the Latter-Day Saints (rev. and enl. Salt Lake City 1940). w. r. cross, The Burned Over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 18001850 (Ithaca 1950). l. nelson, The Mormon Village: A Pattern and Technique of Land Settlement (Salt Lake City 1952). k. young, Isn't One Wife Enough? (New York 1954). t. f. o'dea, The Mormons (Chicago 1957). l. j. arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter Day Saints, 18301900 (Cambridge, Mass. 1958). w. mulder and a. r. mortensen, eds., Among the Mormons: Historic Accounts by Contemporary Observers (New York 1958). f. s. mead, s. s. hill and c. d. atwood, eds., Handbook of Denominations in the United States, 11th ed (Nashville 2001).

[t. f. o'dea/eds.]


views updated May 18 2018


Mormonism was one of many religious movements that emerged in antebellum America during the ferment known as the Second Great Awakening. In 1820 a youthful Joseph Smith (1805–1844) told his family and skeptical neighbors that he had been visited by Jesus Christ in response to his prayerful request for guidance in choosing a true religion. All Christian denominations had gone astray, the personage told him. Smith created little subsequent stir on the religious stage until ten years later, when he produced the Book of Mormon, a lengthy narrative purportedly written by ancient American prophets of Israelite origins and revealed to him by the angel Moroni. It detailed three migrations to the Western Hemisphere from the Old World but focused on the clan history of one group in particular—the Nephites—from their arrival until their demise (c. 600 b.c.e.–400 c.e.), narrating their wars, their belief in a coming Messiah, and his eventual visitation to the New World after his Jerusalem crucifixion.

Almost immediately after publication of the record, Smith assumed the role of prophet, seer, and revelator and organized the Church of Christ (subsequently designated the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), conceived as a full restoration of ancient priest-hood authority and gospel truth. Mormon claims of new scripture, modern prophets, and angelic visitations offended prevailing religious sensibilities. Rapid growth of the sect, cultural differences, and the Mormon practice of gathering into cohesive, self-dependent communities created tensions and upset the local political balance of power, leading to violent confrontation and expulsion from successive areas of Missouri settlement in the 1830s. Most inflammatory of all was the rumored Mormon practice of plural marriage, which created disaffection within and attacks from without, culminating in the murder of Smith and the expulsion of Mormons from Illinois in the mid-1840s. Resettling in the Salt Lake Basin under the leadership of Brigham Young (1801–1877) in 1847, Mormons publicly announced their devotion to plural marriage in 1852 and thereby provoked public outrage and a moral crusade that would involve literary, military, political, and judicial responses over the next four decades.

Consumed with the challenge of surviving in a harsh, arid environment, and characterized by a predominantly puritan morality (polygamy aside), Latter-day Saints devoted little time and energy to literary pursuits in their early Utah period. The Book of Mormon was consistently distributed in those years but has historically served more as a palpable manifestation of Smith's prophetic status than as a text receiving attention or investigation in its own right. Although aBaptist Herald editor admitted in 1840 that "we have never seen a copy of the book of Mormon," he felt confident in declaring the Book of Mormon "a bungling and stupid production. . . . We have no hesitation in saying the whole system is erroneous" (Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, p. 86). Such prima facie dismissal has been typical of public response to the book. However, the Book of Mormon is in fact a text of remarkable structural complexity, incorporating multiple layers of narrative, a cast of hundreds, approximately one thousand references to geography and chronology, and numerous generic forms—from psalm to midrash to epic to sermon. Mormon apologists stress the miracle of the book's ninety-day production by a process of spontaneous dictation corroborated by several witnesses; point to the book's pervasive Hebraic patterns and resonances, especially its many intricate instances of chiasmus, or inverted parallelism; and note its parallels with Old World ritual and cultural elements. Skeptics draw attention to the unlikelihood of detailed pre-Christian references to Christ and his earthly ministry, apparent anachronisms (such as references to horses and steel), and assert a number of parallels with elements of nineteenth-century culture and religion.

With well over 120 million copies in print, the Book of Mormon is easily the most widely published book ever produced by an American. However, given the supernaturalistic elements surrounding its appearance and the challenges raised by the few archaeologists and evangelicals who have looked at it, convincing secular scholars to examine the book is no easy task. However, religious scholars and historians are increasingly noting the undeniable cultural significance of the book, especially as Mormonism appears poised on a trajectory to become a world religion.

The book's primary value to Mormons, however, has been as a sign of Smith's prophetic status, and it became an object of serious theological investigation only in the late twentieth century. And although Mormon scholars have been engaged in serious textual study of the Book of Mormon for apologetic purposes since the 1950s, few of them have plumbed the book's literary features or value.

Other than lending its name to the new movement, then, the Book of Mormon did little to shape public perceptions of early Mormonism. Neither did the Mormons find any significant voice in the secular press or publishing industry to promote their cause or shape their own image. Into this void stepped critics, crusaders, and pulp fiction writers happy to appropriate the latest cultural villain to their own moral and literary agendas. In the process, fiction writers reveal more about the peculiar anxieties Mormonism provoked than any culturally or historically authentic features of Mormonism. At least two patterns of representation emerge from several dozen novels and stories of the era. First, is a conspicuous tendency to Orientalize or otherwise exoticize Mormonism. Such portrayals—beyond simply exploiting the shared sensuous appeal of Eastern harems and Mormon polygamy—had the advantage of recasting religious intolerance in patriotic terms. Reconstructing an unpopular but homegrown Christian sect as a variant of Islam, which E. D. Howe did as early as 1834 (History of Mormonism), made it possible to parallel the anti-Catholic practice of making the target church an enemy of republicanism, domestic values, and American womanhood. That tendency would become most pronounced in the decades after the Civil War.

More striking in the prewar representations of Mormonism were themes of coercion and bondage. The sensationalistic appeal of a system of virtual white slavery evoked by polygamy is obvious. But the first generation of novels suggests more is at work here. The first anti-Mormon work of fiction, The Mormoness (1853), by John Russell (1793–1863), does not even address plural marriage. It does depict Mormonism as a system of "fatal snares" (p. 42) and "ingenious sophistry" (p. 53). The kindly protagonists—both male and female—are "deluded," guilty of only "too much . . . gentleness and goodness" (p. 42). In Maria Ward's Female Life among the Mormons (1855), Smith is a "serpent-charmer" (p. 9) who learned to mesmerize his victims of both sexes with skills acquired from a German peddler. Similarly, Theodore Winthrop's John Brent (1862) is "compelled" to listen by the Mormon leader's "unwholesome fascination" (p. 92). In Orvilla S. Belisle's The Prophets; or, Mormonism Unveiled (1855); Alfreda Bell's Boadicea, the Mormon Wife: Life-Scenes in Utah (1855); and Metta Victoria Fuller Victor's Mormon Wives (1856), women are more blatantly coerced into harems through kidnapping and violence (as they are in the most famous, but British, treatment of Mormonism, Arthur Conan Doyle's 1888 Study in Scarlet). In every single case, the common feature of these early works is Mormonism's erasure of the will to resist. "Choosing" Mormonism is not conceivable in this universe, where deliberate embrace of the religion is rendered unthinkable, as if the literary imagination were not expansive enough to comprehend the spiritual yearnings that the appearance of a new prophet and new Christian scripture fulfilled for so many seekers.

See alsoProtestantism; Religion; Utopian Communities


Primary Works

Russell, John. The Mormoness; or, The Trials of MaryMaverick. Alton, Ill.: Courier Stream Press, 1853.

[Standish, Burt L.] "Frank Merriwell among the Mormons; or, The Lost Tribes of Israel." Tip Top Weekly, 19 June 1897.

Ward, Maria. Female Life among the Mormons: A Narrative of Many Years' Experience among the Mormons. London: Routledge, 1855.

Winthrop, Theodore. John Brent. New York: Lovell, 1862.

Secondary Works

Arrington, Leonard J., and Rebecca Foster Cornwall. "Perpetuation of a Myth: Mormon Danites in Five Western Novels, 1840–90." BYU Studies 23, no. 2 (1983): 147–165.

Arrington, Leonard J., and Jon Haupt. "Intolerable Zion: The Image of Mormonism in Nineteenth Century American Literature." Western Humanities Review 22 (summer 1968): 243–260.

Givens, Terryl L. By the Hand of Mormon: The AmericanScripture that Launched a New World Religion. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Givens, Terryl L. The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Lambert, Neil. "Saints, Sinners, and Scribes: A Look at Mormons in Fiction." Utah Historical Quarterly 36 (winter 1968): 63–76.

Terryl Givens


views updated May 17 2018



Origins. The Mormon church, formally called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was the most successful of the dozens of new sects and communitarian movements that emerged in nineteenth-century America. Formed in rural New York with about thirty members in 1830, by the end of the twentieth century the church boasted over nine million members worldwide. The founder and prophet of the Mormon church was a young man of humble origins named Joseph Smith. Raised in an area of New York known for its frequent revivals and religious experimentation, Smith, like many of his day, felt bewildered by the array of competing religious claims. Uncertain of which church offered the truth, he prayed for guidance. According to his account, written years later, God responded to his entreaty, instructing him to join no church since all were flawed. Instead Smith was to await further instruction about a mission for which he had been divinely chosen. A few years later, Smith recounted, he was guided by an angel to a hill in the woods near his home, where he dug up a set of golden plates inscribed with ancient writing. With divine aid, the untutored Smith wrote, he was able to translate the plates into an English version, published in 1830 as the Book of Mormon.

Words of Christ. The Book of Mormon presents itself as an historical narrative about the descendants of one of the lost tribes of ancient Israel, who migrated to the Americas long before the birth of Christ. The work is said to be another testament of Jesus Christ because it relates a visit of Christ to the New World after his resurrection. Through Christs preaching, the book relates, the true church was established in America, only to be lost after one faction of the people, known as the Lamanites, had become unfaithful and eventually defeated the faithful Nephites. According to this account the Lamanites were the ancestors of the American Indians. It was one of the last remaining Nephites, their military leader, Mormon, who inscribed their history on the golden plates and instructed an angel to bury them until the time when Smith was directed to them.

Appeal. To many who read the Book of Mormon this new testament seemed nothing more than the fantasy of a young man with an active imagination. To others it was more threatening, a heretical document composed by a fraudulent prophet who hoped to fleece the gullible. But there were also those who found in the book the answers they had been seeking. It offered authoritative resolutions of many of the doctrinal controversies of the day and stressed the free will of man and the free grace of God. It provided comfort and hope to the dispossessed and downplayed the distinction between clergy and laity. Perhaps most appealingly, it portrayed America as the chosen land in which the kingdom of God would ultimately be established. Those who followed its teachings were promised a primary role in building that kingdom and were assured that they would be present when Christ returned to earth.

Flight from Persecution. In the early years of the church the Mormons moved frequently, in part because they were searching for the place to found Gods kingdom and in part because they faced a nearly constant onslaught of anti-Mormon propaganda and sometimes outright persecution. Their first move, in 1831, was from New York to Kirtland, Ohio, where they had been invited by Sidney Rigdon, a former Disciples of Christ preacher who was attracted by Smiths advocacy of a communitarian lifestyle. They bought land, set up businesses, constructed a temple, and sent out dozens of missionaries across Ohio and to the West. Their membership grew rapidly, but their growth, along with their debts and other financial difficulties, aroused resentment in the surrounding communities. In 1837 they left Kirtland for a new settlement near Independence, Missouri. Smith had long before named Missouri as Zion, the location on which the city of God was to be built. But there, too, they faced overwhelming hostility from other settlers who disliked Mormon proselytizing and had no desire to see the Mormon Kingdom erected in their midst. After encounters with an armed militia the Mormons were forced to flee to Nauvoo, Illinois, where they arrived in 1839.

Nauvoo. For a few years it seemed that Smith and his followers had at last found a home. Nauvoo became the largest and fastest-growing city in Illinois. Many of the new settlers were Mormon converts who had left their homes to join the Prophet; many others were converted upon their arrival. Between 1841 and 1843, however, their relatively peaceful existence was disturbed when Smith introduced a series of new doctrines and practices into the church. The most controversial of these, the practice of polygamy, or plural marriage, caused conflict within the Mormon community, while rumors of the practice (which was kept secret) caused increased hostility from nonMormons. Hostility grew into violence after Joseph Smith, who had declared himself a candidate in the 1844 race for president of the United States, illegally destroyed the opposition press in Nauvoo. An outraged citizen militia seized Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, who were thrown in a Carthage, Illinois, jail. On 27 June 1844 a mob stormed the jail and murdered both men.

Brigham Young. A struggle for leadership of the Mormon Church followed Smiths death. One faction denied polygamy and other recent revelations and settled in Missouri as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Smaller splinter groups settled elsewhere in the Midwest. But the largest faction followed Brigham Young on a long trek (18461848) to the unsettled territory of what would become Salt Lake City, Utah. Young was a brilliant organizer, and under his guidance the Mormon community prospered. Utah became a formal territory of the United States in 1850, and old conflicts between Mormon ways and the laws and norms of the United States were renewed. Eventually the Mormons renounced polygamy and increasingly conformed to American cultural norms. They have nonetheless maintained their distinctive character, while becoming an accepted and vibrant element of the American religious milieu.


Klaus Hansen, Mormonism and the American Experience (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981);

Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985).

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