Read on and learn about the history and formation, as well as current statistics and information. Whether believer or non-believer, there’s probably plenty here you can learn. We’ll even dispel some common myths and misconceptions.
Let's Start at the Beginning
First things first. It all started in the 1820s, when Joseph Smith, back then, just a 14-year-old boy, wandered which sect of Christianity was the correct one. He then claimed to have seen a vision from God. In this vision, Jesus told him none of them were truly right.
Three years later, he claimed to have seen an angel named Moroni who was sent to him with a mission from God. The work was to find a book written on golden plates which contained the complete gospel of an ancient group of people who used to inhabit the area. Based on that, Smith established his teachings. He officially founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (known as the Mormons) in 1830.
Their Favorite Play
Those who have seen “The Book of Mormon” and aren't part of the faith might think that followers aren't fans. However, it turns out the Church of Latter-Day Saints is a big fan.
Written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the “South Park” guys), the play is all about Smith's religion, done in the Parker/Stone signature make-fun-of-everything style.
There Is Something Out There
There are lots of people that believe there are aliens somewhere out in space, whether it's because you saw some strange lights at night or you're going off of the Fermi paradox. Mormons also believe in the extraterrestrial but in a somewhat different way.
The Church of Latter-Day Saints believes that God created several planets that are inhabited by other beings (Earth is only one such planet). It is His grand plan that all the creatures of these planets learn about his plan for salvation through their own prophets. Each planet has its own Joseph Smith, and each planet has its own version of Mormon Christianity.
Protection Against Evil
There are a number of tales of Mormons surviving car wrecks, fires, and natural disasters thanks to their faith-specific undergarment, but adherents are split about their physical properties. Some believe that the garments provide spiritual protection, as well as encouragement to keep their covenants.
Joseph Smith said that, next to their own virtue and purity of life, the garments were the most sacred of all things in this world. For this reason, many members of the church are unhappy with discussions about the garments in casual manners.
Do You Know the Handshake?
Similar to many other faiths, Mormons have a rite of passage that inducts them into a new stage of the faith. It's called a “holy endowment ceremony,” and it takes place in the Temple.
In many other faiths, there are sayings said and motions made, but for the Church of Latter-Day Saints, there's more to it. They have their own handshakes and hidden phrases, both of which allow them to get into heaven. The handshakes are done through white curtains. They are done with the belief that they must be given in order to pass through “the veil” of heaven.
Not for Public Discussion
Referring to it as a "secret handshake" is considered disrespectful. That being said, the details of the handshakes and the meanings behind them are a closely guarded secret. Not only because they are, in essence, a reward for faithfulness, but because they are the culmination of learning and study that a Mormon undergoes. To prove faithfulness and knowledge.
They actually aren't called handshakes – they're known as signs, seals, or tokens. Mormons do shake hands a lot, it seems. A convert once remarked that Mormons are the most "handshaky" group he'd ever met in his life. A good Mormon handshake can mean a large number of things, from “Hello” to “I understand.”
No Beach Days
One major misconception about Mormons is that they avoid water-related activities, acting under the belief that if they are near or in the water, they are away from God's protection. In reality, just like everyone else, they just practice caution — as one should — around bodies of water.
The water issue is actually more of a myth — drinking water, bathing, and washing dishes are perfectly safe, so why larger bodies? There are also moments in the "Book of Mormon" that have adherents to the faith being baptized in lakes or other bodies of water.
“The Destroyer Riding in Power”
So, where did this water misconception come from? One possible explanation is from the early history of the church, which had Smith and several elders journeying down a river in canoes. They hit numerous dangers, and one elder is said to have seen Satan in the waters.
Shortly after, Smith received another vision from God, stating that the water was cursed by “My servant John.” At first, it was taken to mean the Missouri river they were traveling on but was then extended to all large bodies of water.
When Jesus Visited America
There is another belief of the Mormons that is at heavy odds with other sects of Christianity. It's that, after his death and resurrection, Jesus traveled to America. In fact, it's one of the most central beliefs since they believe America to be the promised land.
While Jesus was in residence, he performed numerous miracles before returning to Jerusalem to ascend. The LDS Church believes that the United States is the Biblical Promised land, that the Constitution of the United States is divinely inspired, and that the millennial New Jerusalem is to be built in America.
When Jesus Returns to America
Just as he visited at the beginning of the A.D. era, it is believed that Jesus will one day return, not just to Earth in general but to America specifically. Mormons believe that Jesus will return, journey to the Mormon Temple in Jackson County, Missouri, and reign over his Kingdom on Earth from there.
The Missouri location is where Smith, the original elders, and the first adherents to the faith first settled after leaving New York. It was where Smith had hoped to create a New Jerusalem or City of Zion, but they were expelled from the area due to conflicts with the locals.
See That Guy Over There?
According to Mormonism, God hasn't always existed “in the sky,” or as a power that is all around us. According to them, he was once an ordinary man that walked around on the Earth, just like any of us.
The reasoning for this is that He wanted to include a roadmap for humans to travel that would take them closer to godliness and therefore closer to salvation.
Trinity? No: Godhead
For those who are members of more traditional sects of Christianity, there might be a couple of shrugs. Yeah, God is Jesus, Jesus is God, and Jesus walked the earth. Thus, God walked the Earth. But it doesn't work that way in the LDS Church.
To Mormons, there is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but the LDS Church believes they are separate and distinct beings. However, they are one in thoughts, actions, and purpose and are commonly referred to as the “Godhead.” The LDS Church also believes that God the Father is the literal father of the human spirits.
The Unending Cycle of Gods
In the LDS Church teachings, not only can any man aspire to be a God, the God that is current isn't the first or even the second God that has ever existed, and yes, that means the God the Father, the Lord of all creation kind of God.
There was a God before him, and there was one before that God, and so on. Mormons believe that this cycle has been happening for “reverse eternity,” meaning that there was no true beginning. I think I need to lie down.
Pray to Mom
Some modern feminist Mormons pray to what is known as the “Heavenly Mother,” the mother of all human spirits and the wife of God the Father. Leading figures in the Mormon community, however, reject the idea, saying that only the Heavenly Father was mentioned as the address to the faithfuls' prayers.
While the doctrines of the Heavenly Mother or heavenly parents are not often discussed, it is still referenced in a number of church hymns and is discussed in church teachings and a number of written sermons. While there is no known record of Smith's explicit teaching on the subject, several of his contemporaries attribute the beginning of the doctrine to him.
Jesus Will be Back to Rule Crystal Earth
To Mormons, God's eternal plan has a couple of twists to it. But what plan doesn't, honestly? The LDS Church teaches that eventually, the Earth will be “baptized by fire” and then ruled over by Jesus Christ himself.
In addition, the deceased will be resurrected with healthy bodies and those that survived the whole experience will never be the same. But honestly, who can ever be the same after a fiery baptism? Well, we don't know.
It's possible that Joseph Smith included this information because he had previously been put on trial for practicing folk magic and being a “stone gazer.”
Under fear of further litigation, he included information that would increase the acceptability of such practices, though, at the same time, he removed allusions to his early life's folk magic elements, such as treasure-seeking activities, divining rods, magic circles, and seer stones in order to remove any pressure from himself. This knowledge, though not a secret, isn't very common now.
The Three Heavens
Mormonism has a rather complicated cosmology. There isn't just one heaven —there are three. Kind of. There is the paradise of the afterlife, similar to what we normally think of heaven. There is also the spirit prison, equated to hell.
After the final judgment, however, there are four options. There is the Celestial Kingdom, which is where God and the members of the faith will reside; the Terrestrial Kingdom, for the ones who followed the laws of Moses but not those of Smith; and there is the Telestial Kingdom, those that lived moral lives but weren't Christians. Finally, there is the outer darkness, where you'll find the outright evil people who rebel against God or love satan and follow him.
Special Programs for Mormons
For a number of reasons, Mormons are recruited more often into groups such as the CIA and the FBI than the rest of America's demographics. The main reason is that their strict sense of morals, as well as their abstinence from potentially harmful substances, makes them ideal candidates for careers in law enforcement.
In order to help reach the LDS community, these groups have set up special Mormon recruitment programs to help bolster their numbers. There have even been some FBI agents who have also acted as Mormon bishops.
Where Is the Seat of Power?
Everybody seems to think that Utah is the center of the Mormon world, and with sixty-eight percent of the state's population as part of the religion, it's no surprise. However, the seat of power is actually Missouri.
Joseph Smith stated that the righteous would come together in Independence, Missouri, during the second coming of Jesus Christ. They even believe that the Garden of Eden is in Missouri. Unfortunately, the residents of Missouri weren't happy about all these revelations, and a majority of the LDS Church packed up and moved to Utah.
Baptism After Death
Like many other sects of Christianity, baptism is a big part of the Mormon faith. However, they have a little bit of extra detail there in that they believe in posthumous baptism.
They believe that if someone is not baptized in the Mormon church during their lifetime, they will go to a Spirit Prison, where they learn the Mormon gospel until a living person is baptized on their behalf. Although out of respect, they do not baptize people with a sensitive history or political standing.
One for One
One of the most well-known things about Mormons is their adherence to polygamy, but that is actually not true. While polygamy was accepted during the early years of the church (Joseph Smith himself was thought to have over forty different wives), the LDS Church banned the practice in the late eighteen hundreds.
In fact, even during Smith's life, members of the church spoke out against the practice. There are still some fundamentalist groups of the LDS movement that continue to practice polygamy, but the mainstream LDS church states it clearly — one man and one woman.
They're Expected to Tithe
If you're familiar at all with Christianity, you're probably familiar with the practice of tithing — giving a percentage of the money you earn to your church. It keeps the church functioning, provides a salary to employees, and allows the church to do good works. Mormons do the same thing, with a twist.
Followers of the faith are required to give one-tenth of their annual income to the church as it is one of the commandments given to them by God. Thanks to this practice, the Mormon church reportedly receives something in the realm of five billion dollars in tithing money every year.
Mormon? LDS? The Church? What's Their Favorite?
There are a number of names for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The one that everyone knows them by, of course, is “the Mormons,” but they don't prefer that title. They prefer the full name of the church, LDS, or LDS Church for short.
The reason for this is that Mormonism is a larger theology as a whole, and there are a number of off-shoot groups such as Mormon fundamentalism and other groups. There is also the fact that people who identify with the culture but not the theology call themselves “cultural Mormons,” which further dilutes the term.
A Good Old Fashioned Schism
As you might imagine, fundamentalist Christians and the LDS Church haven't had the best history together. Smith and his followers were persecuted heavily during the early years of the church, including being chased out of several towns in the midwest before settling in Utah.
Smith himself was also under constant life threats and even died when one of those threats turned into actions while awaiting trial. Since he was running for president of the United States at the time, he is also the first presidential candidate to suffer such a fate. It took moving to the untamed wilderness of Utah and Salt Lake City for the LDS Church to find safety.
When Baptists Attack
The animosity between these two sects of Christianity — though many on the traditional side of things wouldn't call the LDS Church Christians due to differences in doctrine — has continued to the current era. A big clash came in the nineties when the Southern Baptist Church held its annual convention in Salt Lake City, with the stated goal of converting some of the Mormons there.
Of course, the LDS Church wasn't happy about such a tactic. Three thousand baptist volunteers went on a door-to-door missionary effort with the evangelical message. While conversations remained cordial, events at the SBC took numerous jabs at the LDS Church.
Provide Bodies for Spirits
It is common to think that the LDS Church adherents are encouraged to have as many children as possible. Supposedly, it's because they believe every person on Earth lived a previous “spirit life” before being born into their earthly body — a belief not too distant from traditional Christianity.
LDS thus believes it is the duty of a married couple to have as many children as possible in order to provide earthly bodies for the spirits that have not yet made it to Earth. It comes with the added benefit of growing the faith. In reality, however, Mormon couples have the liberty of choosing how many children they want to have.
Keeps the Starbucks Bill Down
Having your cup of morning joe is a big part of everyone's day, so removing coffee entirely seems impossible. However, Mormons are not permitted to consume any “hot drinks” other than herbal teas. They consider the drinks to be harmful, and along with alcohol, doctrine tells adherents to stay away.
Alcohol makes a big amount of sense due to the dangers of over-consumption and dependency, and there are a lot of reasons caffeine isn't very healthy, too. But all hot drinks? It's an interesting choice. However, the doctrine doesn't mention hot cocoa. Everybody likes hot cocoa.
Health Is an Important Part of Life
Mormonism as a whole believes that the human body is a sacred gift from God. Therefore, members of the faith take their health very seriously. They practice mindful eating and exercise regularly. In a study conducted at UCLA, it was found that Mormons die from cancer and cardiovascular diseases only half as often as non-Mormons.
Their average lifespan is also between eight and eleven years longer on average. Of course, there are thousands of possible reasons for this, but watching what you eat and getting good exercise is a pretty safe tactic for longer lives.
The “Twilight” Series Takes from Mormonism
“Twilight” author Stephanie Meyer is herself a Mormon and used the idea of the “celestial marriage” to inform the book. “Celestial marriage” is the idea that once a man and woman are bound in Earthly marriage, they're bound together forever in the afterlife as well.
The characters in the “Twilight” series act with Mormon morals (vampire issues aside). The connection comes when Bella and Edward are married, and Bella starts to die, forcing Edward to turn her into a vampire. Now, the couple is together forever — though in a different way that the LDS Church talks about, of course.
More “Twilight” Mormonism
Well, almost. There are a thousand tiny things you could look at in the extended “Twilight” series that point at Mormonism. One of them is the element in the series called imprinting — something that the werewolves in the series undergo.
Imprinting is when they see the perfect person for them — they are immediately enthralled with that person. It's impossible for them to ignore their feelings. Many believe that this idea of soulmates comes from Mormonism. However, the idea of soulmates isn't part of the doctrine.
Even More “Twilight” Mormonism
Meyer has gone on record saying she didn't insert any Mormon details purposefully, but it's clear she did write through her worldview — a pretty standard writer practice. In the books, Bella avoids coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco, and she mentions the Mormon belief that humans can become divine and later get resurrected.
It is, however, worth mentioning that the whole franchise is fiction and that it is by no means a realistic depiction of the Mormon faith or lifestyle.
Native Americans and Middle Eastern Travelers
According to LDS Church beliefs, members of the greater Abrahamic family — or biblical families related to it — traveled from the Middle East to the Americas by boat around six hundred B.C. They separated into four groups, named for their patriarchs: Lamanites, Jaredites, Mulekites, and Nephites.
The Lamanites gained the greatest power after destroying the others once they fell out of favor with God. They are thought to be the ancestors of the historical Native American tribes.
Jesus Appeared to Native Americans
According to the Book of Mormon, the settlers who moved from the Middle East to America began a war, and that was when Jesus appeared to them. He helped set things straight, though the faulty humans, of course, continued to war. These American groups grew into different races.
Not only does this include Native Americans, but also the Polynesian peoples and those of Southeast Asia. The LDS Church often pushes for good treatment of Native American tribes, in essence believing them to be their forefathers and an important part of their faith.
They Know How to Tell If a Messenger From God Is Real
And it's a pretty simple way to tell, too. If someone appears before you claiming to have a message from God, the simple way to find out if they're real or not — according to the LDS Church, at least — is to put out your hand for a handshake.
If you can feel a firm grip on the other side, then that's a real angel bringing the real word of God. If you don't feel a thing, then it's a demon pretending to be an angel.
Mission (Is not) Impossible
If you live in a city or overseas from America, you've probably seen a pair of guys in black pants, white shirts, and ties, fresh-faced and ready to chat. These are missionaries, and they're a huge part of Mormon life.
Maybe you've been approached by a pair of these friendly guys and gotten into a discussion with them about faith and the LDS Church (or maybe you've brushed them off). Able Mormons between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five are expected to take trips — usually eighteen to twenty-four-month-long — to spread the word to others.
Bonus Advantages of Missionaries
Missionaries often describe their missions as the best years of their lives. Traveling to new and interesting places, meeting new people, getting into deep conversations with people about faith, and potentially converting people into the church. It's no wonder they find it memorable and important.
Since missionaries often travel to other countries, many are fluent in a number of languages aside from English. It's not just proselytizing, either — missions are often for humanitarian aid. Neither gender is required to serve on missions, but men are expected to serve on at least one mission, and women may also go on missions if they so choose.
An Interesting Twist
In a big move away from traditional Christian doctrine, the LDS Church believes that Jesus and Satan were brothers. This stems from the Mormon belief that God is not only a heavenly father but the actual, real Father of all souls.
Obviously, this would include Jesus and Satan — and probably all of the angels, as well. However, Jesus is known as the “elder son,” and Satan is the “second son.” That has got to be some awkward Thanksgiving dinners. Do they gather for Easter? In an interesting way, this also means that both Jesus and Satan are related to humans, according to the LDS Church.
The average age of marriage for most Americans is twenty-seven. The members of the LDS Church, however, have a much younger age: twenty-three. One of the central tenants of Mormonism as a whole is finding a spouse and creating a family — it's essential to God's plan. Therefore, it shouldn't be delayed by things such as a career or education if possible, despite those things also being important in God's plan.
There are a number of messages in the “Book of Mormon” that talk about marriage, such as the idea that no leader of the church should “counsel a person whom to marry.”
What About Divorce?
The LDS Church believes that spouses are eternal and that the marriage covenant is a solemn oath with the spouse and with God. Every effort should be taken to work through problems and love the spouse until the end of life. Divorces, both in legal and spiritual terms, are still possible, but the LDS Church believes problems should be tackled with full hearts in order to maintain relationships and love.
Honestly, not a bad way to look at things. The practice bears fruit: Full Mormon couples have a divorce rate of about twenty-five percent, far lower than the national average.
It's Always Growing
Currently, there are about six and a half million members of the LDS Church in America and more than sixteen million members worldwide. It's the fourth-largest religion in America, and it's one of the fastest-growing in the world, adding about one million members every three years.
They point not only to their missions as a reason but also to their common humanitarian aid. There's also the fact that because members are required to tithe if they want to be part of the Temple, there is plenty of funding for outreach, communicating with new communities, and supporting people who need help.
Paradise or Prison?
The LDS Church holds that when you die, you go to either Paradise or “Spirit Prison.” While Paradise is quite similar to traditional Heaven, Spirit Prison is somewhat different from the traditional thought of Hell.
There are no flames or pitchforks (which are Dante's creations anyway). Instead, the prison is for people who either haven't heard the LDS gospel or those who have heard it but have rejected it. Those who have rejected it have committed an unforgivable sin and are banished to the Outer Darkness, which is a little closer to what we think of when we think of Hell (though still not entirely the same).
Mondays Are for Family Time
While it isn't mandatory, having weekly family time is heavily encouraged. It allows families time to spend together reading scripture, praying, playing games, or catching up away from the rest of the world, in order to build a better connection.
Generally, Mondays are the days that most Mormon families choose to have a family day. It's been this way since LDS Church president Joseph Fielding Smith issued an order in 1970, asking local churches not to hold events on Mondays to give families a chance to spend time together. While not all families stick to Mondays, it is by far the most common choice.
An Antidote for the Modern World
While the main purposes of Family Night are to keep relationships within families strong, some have noticed that during the modern age, it now has additional advantages. TVs, computers, and phones are switched off or put away, letting people de-stress instead of burying themselves in social media or news about the world.
It's a quick fast from tech, something that is becoming more in vogue as smartphones continue to dominate the landscape. Even if you aren't part of the LDS Church, try putting away the media for an evening or a whole day – you might end up feeling refreshed.
Leadership in the LDS Church
Being a relatively new religion, you might be surprised to learn the LDS Church has already had sixteen presidents. The first, which shouldn't come as a surprise, was Joseph Smith, president from founding until his death in 1844. The second president was Brigham Young, who served for thirty years, 1847 until 1877.
The next president was John Taylor, who served only seven years. Several of the presidents have been family members — or direct descendants — of Joseph Smith or his brother Hyrum Smith, including Joseph F. Smith, president from 1901 to 1918, and his son Joseph Fielding Smith, president from 1970 to 1972.
One of the early presidents of the LDS Church was a man named Brigham Young. If you're into college sports or happened to go to school in Utah, you're probably familiar with Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The university is a private college sponsored by the LDS Church.
Named after the church's second president, the university has 179 majors in undergraduate studios, as well as sixty-two master's degrees and twenty-six doctoral degree programs. It has two satellite campuses — one in Salt Lake City and one in Jerusalem. With over thirty thousand students, it's the biggest private university in the country.
Following the Honor Code
As you might expect, students that attend Brigham Young University are required to follow a code of honor that mandates behavior in the spirit of LDS teachings. These include adherence to grooming and dress standards, academic honesty, no extramarital sex, and no consumption of illegal substances, coffee, tea, alcohol, or tobacco.
About ninety-nine percent of the school's students are members of the LDS Church. 66% percent of the students either delay their studies or take a hiatus from it in order to serve as missionaries. The university is significantly cheaper than many other private universities since it is subsidized by the church's tithing funds.
Problems Among the Wives
There's a story from the infancy of the church that Emma Smith, the first wife of Joseph Smith, pushed another wife, Eliza, down the stairs in a jealous rage, resulting in Eliza losing her unborn child. It's used as proof that Smith practiced polygamy, but the story doesn't bear out under investigation or at least is impossible to confirm.
There are also some who think that Smith forbade his wives to admit they were all married to him, though the practice was not outlawed, and it seems to have been a commonly accepted practice within the community that Smith started. Eliza herself never made a statement about the event.
The Explanation Behind Bigfoot
One of the more amusing myths about the Mormon and LDS Church communities is the idea that Cain, the son of Adam and Eve who killed his brother Abel and was cursed by God. Some sat that the curse was, actually, transforming him into a hairy beast that wouldn't die — Sasquatch, Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman.
However, this isn't part of LDS Church doctrine, just a simple story that started popping up in a few places. A man named Patten stated that he spotted the beast, but the claim, as well as the attached story, was unverifiable. And it's quite the story. Read on to learn the entire wild tale.
We get a second-hand recount of the story from a letter by Abraham O. Smoot, recounting David Patten's 1835 account of the meeting.
“A very remarkable person who [introduced] himself as being Cain. His head was about even with my shoulders as I sat in my saddle. He [...] was covered with hair. His skin was very dark. I asked him where he dwelt, and he replied that he had no home, that he was a wanderer in the earth and traveled to and fro. He said he was a very miserable creature, that he had earnestly sought death during his sojourn upon the earth, but that he could not die, and his mission was to destroy the souls of men.”
The White Horse Prophecy
A popular and influential statement on the future, given by Edwin Rushton in 1900 and attributed to Joseph Smith, is something called the White Horse Prophecy.
According to the prophecy, the LDS Church as a whole would go to the Rocky Mountains and “be a great a mighty people,” associated in the prophecy's figurative language with one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Do Mormons Really Own Coca-Cola?
While it has been suggested by church leaders to avoid caffeine, it is not church doctrine. It's strange, then, that this rumor arose. The idea of the LDS Church owning, or even just having a controlling interest in Coca-Cola's stock, came out of the idea that it didn't allow caffeine.
How much fun would it be for the church to be taking profits from a company that they attacked from the pulpit? However, the church keeps all of its investment holdings private, and even if it did have stock in the famous soda-pop shop, they would have no control. Plus, again, they're fine with caffeine.
There is a misconception about the LDC Church which states that the followers believe that rainbow-a less sky is a sign that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is imminent and that the time is near.
The Church doctrine, however, as it appears on their website, states no such thing. In fact, this misconception could stem from the Old Testament where a rainbow is first mentioned in the book of Genesis: after the flood, God creates a covenant with humanity. Thus, the logic goes, once the rainbows stop appearing in the sky, it means that the covenant is void.
The Book of Star Wars
Since the first Star Wars movie came out in 1977, tales have flown around the Mormon community that the backward-speaking Jedi master Yoda was based on LDS Church president Spencer W. Kimball. In addition, there are even some that think George Lucas was in contact with the leaders of the church while writing the movies.
However, both myths are quite false, as stated by Anne Merrifield, the secretary to George Lucas when he was at the head of Lucasfilm Ltd. In reality, Yoda's face was modeled after famous scientist Albert Einstein. One can find connections between LDS doctrine and Star Wars, but you can do the same thing everywhere.
No Paid Ministry?
The policy of not having a paid ministry had long been a much-emphasized tenet of the LDS Church. Members of the church that act as “General Authorities” (senior leaders) receive a stipend to meet their expenses while they serve the Church, but the amount is unknown and likely varies from person to person.
The church has also stated that the compensation is much less than executive compensations in other industries. It has also stated that the money for these stipends comes from business income and not from tithe money. Members of the General Authority used to be able to sit on the boards of church-owned businesses and receive compensation for that, but this practice was discontinued in 1996.
But What About the Book?
The Book of Mormon came out seven years after Joseph Smith had his first sighting of an angel (who was named Moroni). Smith said that the Book of Mormon was the detailed new covenant between God and the House of Israel, wrapping around and yet expanding on the “old” covenant of Judaism and the “new” covenant of Christianity.
The book itself is a synthesis of the covenants. It draws upon the Old and New Testaments in its narrative. The book entered into circulation in March of 1830, and since then, it has been published and sold in almost two hundred million copies.
The “Book of Mormon” reads like a prequel to the New Testament. Rooted firmly in American soil, it reveals a never-before-heard story about Jesus Christ. It also portrays reboot versions of such biblical accounts as the Garden of Eden and the Gospel of John. According to the “Book of Mormon,” Jesus fled Israel and took refuge amongst Native Americans in the American wilderness about 600 years before biblical accounts of Christ.
This telling, exclusive to the “Book of Mormon” asserts Christ established another promised land on the American frontier. It claims to be historically accurate, but modern archaeology disagrees.
The Book Offers a Plan of Salvation
“The Book of Mormon” differs from the Bible with its treatment of personal salvation. The Bible does not offer guides to salvation, but the newer Book does. The idea of salvation is mentioned at least 30 times throughout the book. It specifically refers to a “plan of salvation,” a “plan of happiness” and a “plan of redemption.”
The path to salvation begins by allowing people to follow the gospel of Christ and concludes with entering heaven. The final judgment is not terrifying but instead positive growth toward joy, freedom, and responsibility.
A Quintessential American Religion
For 19th century Americans, the presence of Mormonism on the North American continent was appealing. Joseph Smith inspired religious fervor with stories of angels sent by God and epiphanies about Jesus Christ. In the early 19th century, a spiritual revival was brewing. Known as the restoration movement, many people were swept up in the religious passion claiming to be prophets of divine revelation.
During this time, Smith’s visions and prophecy sold like hotcakes. Christians flocked to this intriguing new sect, much like Americans of the 21st century moved in droves toward the Christian megachurch movement. It had a certain appeal.
Joseph Smith’s Superstar Appeal
Mormonism was tightly organized with an appealing backstory. But it also came with a galvanizing figure. Smith was known as a prodigy and a prophet. Handsome with bright blue eyes, he had magnetism, he had charisma, and he possessed the ambition to lead. He preached an intriguing new scripture, a brand-new testament of Jesus Christ.
He rounded upconverts with rock star-grade fervor. According to Smith, God and Jesus told him that none of the Christian sects were worth joining, so he founded his own.
The City of Nauvoo
Smith established a booming town filled with Mormons. It was one of his greatest achievements. In 1840, Joseph Smith purchased land in Illinois called Commerce. He renamed it Nauvoo, a word from Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful upon the mountains.”
Providing a place for Mormons who were continually persecuted, the city grew to be the largest population outside of Chicago. Since Smith owned the land, he also oversaw the city, the militia, and the courts.
Joseph Smith’s Fan Club
We know that Smith began having visions of God and Jesus and pillars of light at age 14. And we know there were a lot of people who claimed to be prophets, but Smith captured imaginations. His vision of an angel named Morani in 1823 prophesized a set of gold plates containing the angel’s teachings. These words revealed and dictated by Smith, would populate the pages of the “Book of Mormon.”
Not all folks ascribed, and many loathed him. Starting with his first wife Emma Hale’s father who called him “insolent.”
Why People Hated Smith
Smith was adored by his followers, but he was despised by many. His doctrine preached Christian scripture that was not in the scripture. To many Christians of the era, Smith’s new sect was heretical. Just as offensive, Smith willfully married multiple wives, refusing to adhere to societal norms, even after a movement led by his detractors succeeded in making polygamy illegal in the U.S. by 1862.
Smith reportedly took in as many as 40 wives. One reason Mormons were forced from one place to another was to avoid persecution.
Did He Really Have 40 Wives?
Yes. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently published information about their founder’s plurality of wives. Records do not show all the wives he eternally sealed with, code for intimacy in marriage, but he did have at least 40. Some were also married to friends of his.
The youngest, Helen Mar Kimball, was 14 when they married and his oldest was Fanny Young, 56. According to the prophet, an angel of God came to him several times and commanded him to go ahead with marrying more than one woman.
Did Bingham Young Have More Wives than Smith?
Yes. Brigham Young had about 55 verified wives on record. He married single women and widows. Strangest of all, he was sealed with two different mothers-in-law. Young swore he was a happy monogamist in his first marriage to Mary Ann Angell. It was Smith who convinced him to change his ways.
Smith beseeched Young to partake in plural marriages. His lifestyle peaked in 1846. In that year he married 20 wives. On the spousal end, it wasn’t all fun and games. Wife Zina Huntington sobbed bitterly upon moving into a home with multiple wives.
The 1838 Mormon War
The war, known also as the Missouri Mormon War, created the need for Mormon relocation in Nauvoo. Tensions and anti-Mormon violence led to Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs ordering Mormons to leave Missouri or be killed. Most of Smith’s followers escaped, joining an exodus of 10,000 who made it safely to Nauvoo.
It’s hard to say exactly why the backlash against Smith’s disciples was so virulent but naming Missouri the holy land did not help. He said the town of Independence in Missouri would be the Mormon City of Zion, land for his followers to inhabit.
The First Detractors of ‘The Book’
Smith rose to prominence in western New York where he grew up as a farmer. This is where he acquired his first flock of followers. But by 1831, his LDS converts were already feeling the burn of their prophet’s critics.
The ridicule of anti-Mormon sentiment marked the onset of the Mormon church’s slow crawl westward, riddled of course with conflicts like the war in Missouri. Ultimately destined for Salt Lake City, the modern church has proliferated abundantly ever since.
Smith was Tarred and Feathered in Kirtland
Anti-Mormon tensions were high in Kirtland, Ohio. On March 24, 1832, Smith and at least one of his church counselors were at Smith’s home looking over his child who wasn't very well.
It was late at night and an angry mob attacked and snatched the two men. At the time, Smith was in the process of erecting a temple on the Kirtland settlement.
Building his First Temple
Upon fleeing New York, Smith and his people landed in Kirtland, Ohio. For six years they flourished there. A year after arriving, Smith had a revelation from God to build a temple. That was just the start. Smith claimed to receive 65 revelations during construction.
He managed to oversee the project with a small group of impoverished followers. Church members donated labor and materials like glass and pottery used for making stucco. Soaring to 110 feet, it was reverently dedicated in 1836.
Why the City of Zion Temple was Never Built
During the temple-construction days of the Kirtland church, plans to build a sprawling compound of temples in the city of Zion were developing. Smith received a revelation in 1831 for building an “everlasting inheritance.” In 1833 the master plan was underway.
It intended Jackson County, Missouri to host 24 temples and accommodate 20,000 people. Why didn’t it happen? Once again, Mormons were chased out. Missouri citizens expelled the LDS from the city.
Running for President Sealed his Fate
Already considered a lightning rod for his beliefs, running for president brought Smith even more negative attention. He exasperated this situation attempting to shut down his dissenters. A group of disgruntled former Latter-day Saints published the “Nauvoo Expositor,” a newspaper criticizing his leadership. Smith fired back.
As the leader of Nauvoo, he ordered the destruction of the press and he sent out the militia to enforce it. This unabashedly anti-democratic abuse of power would not go unchecked. He was charged with treason and conspiracy, along with his brother Hyrum.
He Ended His Life as a Martyr
No longer welcome in the Illinois city he founded, Smith was arrested for treason and conspiracy. He and his brother were jailed in neighboring Carthage in February of 1844. At first, he attempted to flee. After consideration, however, Smith decided to accept his fate.
On June 27, 1844, a 200-strong anti-Mormon militia swarmed the Carthage jail cell and took Smith's life. His brother's life ended there too. Smith’s bullet-ridden body fell from the second-story window during his attempted escape.
The Making of a Martyr
Upon learning his fate and returning to Nauvoo to face charges, he said, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter.” He also imparted to his followers, “I shall die innocent". This is the part Mormons believe.
Modern LDSs are taught of his martyrdom, and they are taught to love Joseph Smith, to the point that most LDS’ do not know Smith used military power to destroy the presses of the “Nauvoo Exposition.”
Having More Than One Wife
Just a year before his bloody downfall, Smith declared that having more than one wife is legal in the eyes of God. In a celestial power grab, known officially as the doctrine of “celestial marriage,” Smith said certain Mormon men could retain plural marriages.
It wasn’t his law; it was authorized by a revelation directly from God. In 1843, according to Smith, God commanded humans to live in plural marriages and strive to reach the highest realms of heaven.
King of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
It was shortly after the temple was built that Smith began organizing his church into something more like a Hebraic model of power. The hierarchical setup designated deacons, elders, bishops, and priests. And at the top, naturally, was Smith, “First President.” He failed to win the U.S. presidential election so he would preside here.
Some of the Stranger Things Mormon
The LDS Church accepts the story that Adam and Eve lived in Daviess County, Missouri after being expelled from the Garden of Eden. We always wondered where they went, so, The Book of Mormon explains it.
They also believe John the Baptist, one of the most revered apostles of Christendom, appeared to Smith to tell him to preach the true gospel. Smith was transcribing the “Book of Mormon” at the time.
Exaltation is a New to Christians
Exaltation, or what is called the plurality of gods, allows Mormons to become gods, and live in the presence of God and Jesus Christ, along with their Earthly family. This sounds like a good deal. Dying takes away none of your Earthly spoils if you’re a good Mormon who achieved this privilege.
In 1890 the supreme court ruled to essentially dissolve the Mormon church. At that point, the church caved, upon threats of seizure of church property by the U.S. government. A document called “The Manifesto,” released by LDS president Wilford Woodruff officially renounced having more than one wife.
Achieving statehood was worth it but the rejection of the many wives issue was coerced. Added to that the fact that Smith had written into the religion the go-ahead for plural wives, many Mormons refused to recognize the federal law.
And What About That Other Book?
There are those of us who have learned everything we know about Mormonism seeing “The Book of Mormon,” the catchy-tuned and fun-filled musical by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Expecting biting irreverence all the way through, it comes as a surprise at intermission that it’s almost a celebration of the LDS Church.
When the curtain goes up after the intermission, however, it’s a different story. The floodgates open and inappropriate humor unleash for about an hour. Upon leaving the theater, one can only wonder how deeply offended an LDS in the audience must’ve felt.
Missionary in England Talks about the Other “Book of Mormon”
A missionary in England named Richard talked about opening night at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London. He said that he staked out the venue ready to spread the word. He looked at the musical as the church does. He takes it for what it is, as for-profit entertainment, but also as an opportunity to convert the willing.
Richard had not viewed the production in full, but he had seen certain parts. He said some of those parts were very funny and that, overall, the musical was meant for people to have a good time.
When ‘South Park’ Creators Go Over the Line
Richard’s very upbeat demeanor turned somber as he talked about the specific content of the musical. Trey and Matt’s signature irreverence is impossible to ignore. Speaking to “Lifey,” via a video interview, Richard talked about the way church teachings had been taken out of context in a bad way.
Even though he felt “The Book of Mormon” was not meant to bash his religion but for fun instead, he couldn’t help feeling hurt. Sharing how he really felt he said, “Some very sacred things are made to be playful” and that’s a little difficult. Because seeing those things “in a very nonsacred context is harder to take as a believer in those things.”
Trey Parker: ‘I think Jesus wanted this to happen’
The dynamic duo of dissing everyone joined “60 Minutes” on CBS to talk about the massive success of the musical. The “South Park” creators wrote the lyrics and script with help from Bobby Lopez, first known for scoring the Oscar-winning “Frozen” soundtrack. The collaboration created the worldwide smash with 7 Tony Awards. When the boys are asked about whether “The Book of Mormon” is anti-Mormon they demure.
Trey Parker says that no one wants to see two hours of Mormon bashing. “It’s not a 2-hourlong Mormon bashing, it really isn’t.” Matt Stone breaks in with a quip of truth, “It’s about an hour bashing.”
All About Mormons
South Park enthusiasts will know “The Book of Mormon” musical sprouted from a Season 7 episode called “All About Mormons.” It tells the story of Joseph Smith transcribing the “The Book of Mormon,” succinctly, to music, and, of course, satirizing the prophet.
How? The show laughs when he’s called a prophet, “Dum, dum, dum, dum dum,” goes the chorus. And again, punctuating his claim he translated the gold books by holding “seer stones” next to his eyes. When a 19th-century woman calls Smith a fake, the chorus sings, “Smart, smart, smart, smart, smart.”
The South Park Guys Grew Up Knowing Mormons
The pair dreamed of doing a big musical for a long time. Making it about Mormons was a no-brainer. It all started with their background in Colorado and making the South Park TV episode. The show surfaced in 2003 and by 2011 they had their Broadway musical. Despite its savage mockery, they knew there would be no Mormon backlash.