What Do Mormons Believe?

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Michael Fassbender

Mormonism is a religion practiced by millions around the world. And yet, many who are unfamiliar with it sometimes rely on vague stereotypes and pop culture references to define it. In reality, it’s a theologically complex religion with an unusual history. Here, we answer some of the most common questions about Mormonism, with context from religious experts and Mormon literature.

Mormons believe in a Christian view of God and Jesus. The Bible and the Book of Mormon are the two most important sources for the Mormon faith. The Book of Mormon is described by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as “a collection of writings from ancient Christians who traveled from Jerusalem to the Americas during biblical times,” transcribed by the church’s founder Joseph Smith, who is considered by believers to be a prophet. This marks one of the biggest differences between Mormonism and other Christian religions.

What’s the difference between Mormonism and Latter-day Saints?

The name “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” comes from a verse in the Book of Mormon, in which God reportedly said “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest Mormon denomination, have requested people stop referring to church members as “Mormons.” However, there is a distinct relationship between the two. There are three fairly large Mormon churches: The LDS based in Salt Lake City, the Fundamentalist Church of (Jesus Christ of) Latter-day Saints, and the Community of Christ. They are the Mormons who did not go west and settle in Utah, and they are quite different theologically. So, logically, all followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are technically Mormons. But not all Mormons are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Origins of Mormonism

The religion was founded by Joseph Smith in the 1820s in Palmira, a small town in upstate New York. Mormons believe Smith, confused about what denomination of Christianity to follow, received a vision from an angel named Moroni, who led Smith to a box containing a book inscribed on gold plates. The book was said to be written by ancient prophets who lived in the Americas, and Moroni asked Smith to translate the ancient text into English. The Book of Mormon assumes an alternative history to other Christian texts. Most notably, the text claims a strong presence of ancient Christianity and pre-Christianity in what is now the United States. According to the Book of Mormon, Jesus appeared in the Americas after his crucifixion in 33 AD and preached to a group of Nephites, descendants of ancient Israelites who traveled to the continent around 600 BC.

Mormon Expansion and Controversies

Though the Mormon religion began in New York, it quickly spread west, through Ohio and Illinois and later to the contested frontier of Utah. Missionaries, who immediately became an important part of the church, were one reason for the expansion. The other was that Smith, with his visions and controversial ideas, became increasingly unpopular outside his Mormon community and chose to relocate several times. This practice sowed mistrust not only among non-Mormons, but among some of Smith’s closest associates. In 1844, Smith and his brother Hyrum were arrested in Illinois and charged with treason after attempting to quash public discussion of polygamy and using a local militia. After Smith’s death, the church was taken over by Brigham Young, who continued the push westward.

Mormon Practices and Beliefs Today

“Missionary work has been part of the church since the very beginning,” says Bowman, noting that missionary work is part of what initially led the early Mormon church to expand. “In Mormonism, the leadership of the church will extend a call for you to go on a mission. That is what distinguishes it from other Christian churches. There, it is personal and voluntary. According to the LDS Church, there are about 53,000 full-time missionaries around the world, in more than 400 locations. The practice of polygamy in the early Mormon church was highly controversial. The spread of Mormonism even led to legal battles with the US government, culminating in the federal criminalization of polygamy in 1882. However, polygamy is not widely practiced among Mormons today. The LDS Church’s official policies describe their stance on homosexuality. Mormonism has also been heavily criticized for its history of racial prejudice. Both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young advanced a theological idea that Black people bore the “curse of Cain,” relating them to the Old Testament story of the covetous, murderous brother. Since the disavowal of its founders’ views on race, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has occasionally made statements condemning racism. Its church policies also clarify this stance.

FAQs

What are the main beliefs of Mormonism?

Mormonism teaches that there are many gods, with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit being three separate gods among many others. Furthermore, it is also possible for humans to ascend to godhood. Obedience to moral laws and observance of religious rituals are central to the Mormon faith.

What’s the difference between Mormonism and Latter-day Saints?

The name “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” comes from a verse in the Book of Mormon, in which God reportedly said “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest Mormon denomination, have requested people stop referring to church members as “Mormons.” However, there is a distinct relationship between the two.

When did the Mormon church begin?

The Mormon church was founded by Joseph Smith Jr. in the 1820s in Palmira, a small town in upstate New York. Smith claimed to have a revelatory vision of two divine beings who he said were God the Father and Jesus Christ. They taught him that all Protestant denominations were wrong.

What are the main beliefs of Mormonism?

Mormonism teaches that there are many gods, with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit being three separate gods among many others. Furthermore, it is also possible for humans to ascend to godhood. Obedience to moral laws and observance of religious rituals are central to the Mormon faith.

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