Mormons are a religious group that embrace concepts of Christianity as well as revelations made by their founder, Joseph Smith. They primarily belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or LDS, which is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, and has more than 16 million members worldwide. Another Mormon denomination, the Community of Christ, is centered in Independence, Missouri, and has about 250,000 members. The religion was officially founded in 1830 when The Book of Mormon was published.
Today, the LDS church is most prevalent in the United States, Latin America, Canada, Europe, the Philippines, Africa and parts of Oceania. While Mormons embrace many Christian beliefs, they have their own distinct set of philosophies, values and practices.
- Mormons consider themselves Christians, but many Christians don’t recognize Mormonism as an official denomination.
- Mormons believe in the crucifixion, resurrection and divinity of Jesus Christ. Followers claim that God sent more prophets after Jesus’s death. They say that the original church has been restored in modern times.
- Mormons embrace four different texts: The Christian Bible, The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price.
- According to the LDS church, Adam and Eve lived in Daviess County, Missouri after being driven from the Garden of Eden.
- There are three levels of heaven—celestial, terrestrial and telestial—in Mormonism. Only those in the celestial kingdom will live in God’s presence.
- Followers don’t recognize the Christian concept of the trinity (God existing in three persons). Instead, they believe the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are three separate gods.
- The The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints considers Joseph Smith, who founded Mormonism, a prophet.
- Mormons follow a strict healthy lifestyle that doesn’t allow them to consume alcohol, tobacco, coffee or tea.
- Family life, good deeds, respect for authority and missionary work are important values in Mormonism.
- Mormons practice clothing rituals that include wearing special undergarments that have religious significance. Known as the “temple garment,” the attire is worn by adult members who make sacred promises to God.
- Not all Mormon churches accept the label "Mormon," because the term has at times been used in a derogatory manner, and it does not allow for the variety of beliefs that exist among churches that follow the Book of Mormon and the teachings of Joseph Smith.
Joseph Smith Jr. was born in Vermont on December 23, 1805. When Smith was 14, he said he received a vision from God and Jesus that told him not to join any Christian denominational churches.
Three years later, Smith claimed that an angel named Moroni appeared to him. Moroni revealed that Smith had been selected to translate the Book of Mormon, a sacred text that was written around the 4th century and named after Moroni’s father, Mormon.
According to Moroni, this spiritual book contained information about the ancient people who inhabited the Americas. He revealed that the book was inscribed on golden plates near Palmyra, New York, which was close to where Smith lived at the time.
Although the plates were first revealed to him on September 22, 1823, Smith said he was not allowed to retrieve them until September 1827. The Book of Mormon was translated and published in 1830.
Smith also asserted that John the Baptist appeared to him while he was translating the Book of Mormon and instructed him to restore the church by preaching the true gospel.
Joseph Smith Murdered
After the Book of Mormon was published, Mormonism began to spread and grow rapidly. Smith set up Mormon communities in Missouri, Ohio and Illinois.
Smith was criticized and persecuted by many for teaching his new ideas. In February 1844, Smith and his brother were jailed on charges of treason.
On June 27, 1844, both Smith and his brother were murdered in jail by an anti-Mormon mob in Carthage, Illinois.
After Smith died, the church divided. Many Mormons followed Brigham Young, who became Smith’s successor.
Young led a large group of persecuted Mormons from Illinois to search for religious freedom. In 1847, Young and the other pioneers reached Utah’s Salt Lake Valley.
Mormon Western Expansion
During the 1850s, Young organized the migration of about 16,000 Mormons from Illinois to Utah. He founded Salt Lake City and became the first governor of the Utah Territory.
Young was named the President of the Church and kept this title until his death in 1877. Scholars believe Young significantly influenced the religious and political landscape of the American West.
Mountain Meadows Massacre
Despite moving to a relatively isolated region in Utah, tensions between Mormons and other Americans continued.
In September of 1857, a Mormon militia murdered about 120 people who were part of a wagon train from Arkansas. This event became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
The exact motive for the massacre is still debated today, and some records show that Mormon leaders attempted to cover up the attack.
Scholars are also unsure who was directly responsible for the violence. Some have blamed Brigham Young, while others say the local leaders in southern Utah were at fault.
Book of Mormon
Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon confirms information found in the Holy Bible.
The text gives an account of ancient prophets who lived in the Americas. It covers events that occurred from about 2500 B.C. to A.D. 400.
According to the book, some Jews came to America to avoid persecution in Jerusalem. They divided into two groups who fought each other: the Nephites and the Lamanites. In A.D. 428, the Nephites were defeated. The text says that the Lamanites are the same group that’s known as the American Indians.
According to the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ appeared and preached to the Nephites in the Americas after his crucifixion.
The book is divided into smaller books that read as narratives. The LDS church states that more than 150 million copies of the Book of Mormon have been distributed as of 2011.
Today, the LDS church is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s run by a prophet who also serves as president of the church for life.
The church’s hierarchy consists of:
- The first presidency (president and two counselors)
- The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
- The First Quorum of the Seventy
- Stake Presidency
- Ward Bishopric
- Individual members
Children in the church are typically baptized at 8 years of age.
A young man, 12 years of age or older, can enter into a priesthood known as Aaronic priesthood. Those over 18 can enter into Melchizedek priesthood.
Although the LDS church banned the practice of polygamy in 1890, Mormons historically wed many wives.
In recent years, the church acknowledged that Joseph Smith wed as many as 40 wives, some as young as age 14.
Today, Mormons frown upon polygamy and choose to marry just one spouse. Still, a small number of fundamentalists, who broke from the church, continue to practice plural marriage.
In recent years, Mormonism has crept its way into popular American culture.
Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney brought the religion to the forefront of American politics in 2012.
The well-known musical comedy, The Book of Mormon, has also brought attention to the religion, although it’s caused mixed reactions within the Mormon community.
According to a 2023 Pew Research poll, a quarter of Americans say they hold very or somewhat unfavorable views of Mormons. A 2012 Pew poll found that said that 46 percent of Mormons feel they face a lot of discrimination.
- Mormonism’s History, Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry.
- Timeline: The Early History of the Mormons, PBS.
- Mormon Church Fast Facts, CNN.
- Mormons in America – Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society, Pew Research Center.
- 2016 Statistical Report for 2017 April Conference, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Newsroom.
- Church: Mormon founder Joseph Smith wed 40 wives, CNN.