Just months ago, Mormonism was everywhere; the presidential campaign with Mitt Romney, the TLC show Sister Wives and the center of many YouTube parody videos.
The Mormon church, usually called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or The Church of Jesus Christ, was founded in the 19th century. The Mormon church is centered around Christ, but brings together beliefs from other religions, such as the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christian churches. Mormonism has 13.5 million members world-wide.
The church was founded by Joseph Smith in 1830 and developed by Brigham Young who arrived in Salt Lake City in 1847 after coming to the United States. Mormons believe that Joseph Smith received a revelation from God through an angel in the 1820s. Smith was persecuted for his beliefs and was put into jail more 30 times and was tarred and feathered. Smith died at 38 years old in 1844 after being mobbed by about 150 men while in an Illinois jail. Although Smith died at a young age, he had much success during his lifetime because the Mormon church grew from six to 26,000 members.
During the early nineteenth century the church was having financial problems and decided to use a new custom of tithing – giving one-tenth of the member’s income to the church. Tithing resulted in double the usual income and it helped to bring the Church out of debt by 1907.
The Mormons make Jesus central to their religion because they believe other religions have strayed too far from the vision of religion Jesus brought to us. The Mormon church is led by bishops, but Sunday worship is led by the people of the church and does not involve priests. The Mormon sacred texts include both the Bible and the Book of the Mormon – a book that tells the story of how God dealt with the ancient inhabitants of the American continent.
Mormons have a different view on God than Christians would. Mormons believe that God has a physical body and a perfected man. They believe that there is more than one God and that human beings have the potential to become like God after death. Douglas Davies, a professor of theology and religion at Durham University says,”Mormons believe God and human beings are of the same basic stuff but at different levels of progressive development. Everything that is, has always existed. There was no initial ‘creation’.” Mormons believe that three beings make up the Godhead and that these things are separate but work in a united way. These beings include:
- God the Father
- Jesus Christ
- The Holy Ghost
Mormons reject the idea of original sin and do not believe that humans are inherently evil. When humans sin they push themselves farther away from God. Mormons believe that humans are accountable for the sins they commit after the age of eight. Like most other religions, Mormonism opposes abortion, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, pornography and gambling. Mormons also avoid tobacco, consuming alcohol, tea, coffee, and the use of drugs. Mormons believe that salvation is possible through their actions on earth and the grace of God. A portion of the work of salvation has already been completed by Jesus who atoned for our sins.
Mormons believe that human beings have three stages in life:
- Pre-existence as spirit children
- A time of probation on earth
- Eternal life with God the Father
Mormons believe that baptism is a necessary part of the religious life. A person must be baptized to receive salvation and one day return to live with God. Children are baptized at age eight. Mormon baptism includes total immersion into water to be cleansed of all sin and the recitation of prayers. The child or adult being baptized and the person leading the ceremony dress completely in plain white clothing.
Missionary work is central to the Mormon life. In fact, about 40% of young men do missionary work. This missionary trips last two years for men and 18 months for women. After their trips are over the men receive the title of “Elder” and women receive the title of “Sister.”
Marriage is central to Mormon life because they believe that God has ordered them to have children. Mormons also believe that God performed the first marriage. It is central to Mormon life because they believe that the family unit continues after death and that it is essential to salvation. Marriages are performed in a Mormon temple with a ceremony that lasts about 20 minutes called “sealing.”
One major misconception about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that it accepts polygamy. We’ve all joked about it TLC’s hit show Sister Wives, but Mormons discontinued polygamy more than a century ago. The church actually excommunicates those who practice it.
Although polygamy has been discontinued BBC reports that there are about “30,000 people practicing polygamy in Utah, Montana and Arizona, who either regard themselves as preserving the original Mormon beliefs and customs, or have merely adopted polygamy as a desired way of life and not as part of the teachings of any church.” Although some legal action has been taken against these people, there has been little success because they maintain that polygamy is part of their First Amendment rights. One famous case was Tom Green who was sentenced to five years in prison after he claimed that he had three wives due to his religious beliefs. He had previously been excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1980.
Mormons prefer to burials over cremation. Family members recite prayers and dedicate the grave. Because Mormons believe that families are reunited after death there is usually less grief than normal at their funerals; their goodbye is more like a “see you later” and the funeral is a celebration of their time spent on Earth.