Monday, February 5, 2007

Scholarly usage

Some scholars, such as J. Gordon Melton, in his Encyclopedia of American Religion, subdivide the Mormons into Utah Mormons and Missouri Mormons.

In this scheme, the Utah Mormon group includes all the organizations descending from those Mormons who followed Brigham Young to what is now Utah. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is by far the largest of these groups, and the only group to initially reside in Utah. The Missouri Mormons group includes those Mormons who did not travel to Utah, and the organizations formed from them — the Community of Christ, Church of Christ (Temple Lot), Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, etc.

In its October Conference of 1890, the LDS Church declared that it would discontinue the practice of plural marriage. The policy was accepted by unanimous vote of those in attendance. Nearly 20 years later, however, individuals surfaced who said that polygamy was a “fundamental” belief of Mormonism and could not be discarded. They formed several small congregations and communities advocating the necessity of polygamy and other doctrinal differences with the LDS Church. While these smaller groups have memberships in the hundreds or thousands, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now reports a worldwide membership of over 12.5 million [1]. Due to heavy media focus on these fractional bodies, however, misidentification of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with these polygamous groups is not uncommon. These groups include the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Kingston clan, the True & Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days and a few others. Most of these groups have headquarters in Utah, with communities in Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, British Columbia, Alberta, Mexico and Great Britain. Additionally, several dozen "fundamentalists" claim affiliation with no group other than their own family.

The terms "Utah Mormon" and "Missouri Mormon" are problematic because the majority of each of these branches' members no longer live in either of these states. Although a majority of Utahns are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the LDS Church has a large membership in other states, most notably Arizona, California, Idaho and Nevada, and the majority of the church's membership today resides outside of the United States. Nor are all "Missouri Mormons" based in Missouri. Notable exceptions include the Pennsylvania-based Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite) which considers Sidney Rigdon Joseph Smith's rightful successor and the Wisconsin-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite) which considers James J. Strang Smith's rightful successor.

Addressing some of the limitations of the Utah/Missouri designations, some historians have now coined the terms Rocky Mountain Saints and Prairie Saints to rename the "Utah" and "Missouri" branches of the movement. These new terms have begun to gain a following among historians today, but similar to the above mentioned titles, they are not of common usage among the majority of those who call themselves "Mormons."

Additionally, "Utah Mormon" is often used as a derisive term among the LDS themselves. A "Utah Mormon" is one who outwardly lives every tenet of the faith without maintaining a deep spiritual conviction.

Claims for exclusivity

By the 1970s, "Mormon" had become so common that the LDS Church began to use the term in its radio and television Public Service Announcements which ended: "A message from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: the Mormons." More recently the organization has asked the media to use the church's complete name and to follow any second reference with the name "The Church of Jesus Christ."

Claims for exclusivity of usage are primarily to avoid confusion between the LDS Church and "Mormon Fundamentalist" groups. LDS Church officials state that referring to organizations or groups outside of the LDS Church (especially those that practice plural marriage) as "Mormon," "Mormon fundamentalist," or "Mormon dissident" is a misunderstanding of Mormon theology, in particular the principles of continuous revelation and Priesthood authority. In 2006, the current president of the LDS Church, Gordon B. Hinckley, said:

"I wish to state categorically that this Church has nothing whatsoever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church. Most of them have never been members. They are in violation of the civil law . . . If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose. Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this Church."

Sometimes Restorationist or Restoration Movement are used as umbrella terms for those derived from the Campbellites or Stone-Campbell churches, for example, the Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ. Mormons, however, are not a break-off group of the Campbellites. While they share some beliefs, such as the idea of a restoration, they differ in their beliefs about it. Most importantly, Mormons believe that the Restoration in question has already happened: The original church of Jesus Christ, known as the primitive church by historians, is believed by adherents to have been restored through Joseph Smith, the first Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are some general similarities to Campbellite teachings, and many of Mormonism's first adherents (including Sidney Rigdon) were previously Campbellites. But the Book of Mormon, the book of Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price separate Mormon doctrine from any other Restorationist faiths.

Origin of the term "Mormon"

The term Mormon was first used in modern times in the 1830s as a pejorative to describe those who believed that Joseph Smith, Jr. had been called as a prophet of God, and who accepted the Book of Mormon as scripture.

According to Latter-day Saint theology, the term Mormon also refers to a prophet who lived in the Americas in the 4th century A.D. He was called by God to abridge and compile the records of his people and their dealings with God into a single book. This book is now known as the Book of Mormon. After Mormon's death, his son Moroni witnessed the complete destruction of his people and buried the record compiled by his father in a hill in what is now upstate New York, the hill Comorah. This same Moroni, more than 1400 years later, was sent by God as a messenger to Smith who went to the place where the record was buried, and with a great deal of help from God, Smith translated the record into English. After Smith was murdered in 1844 at the hands of a mob in a Carthage, Illinois jail, the largest body of Latter-day Saints followed Brigham Young, who eventually became President of his denomination, in an exodus to the Salt Lake Valley, arriving there in July of 1847. Smaller groups of Saints followed other claimants to the Church Presidency, some staying behind in Nauvoo, Illinois, and others dispersing to separate locations.

The term Mormon continues to be used to refer to members of this group that followed Brigham Young, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but not to related smaller denominations that separated from this group over issues such as polygamy. Individual leaders within the hierarchy of the LDS Church have sometimes made explicit effort to reject the use of the term "Mormon," as it does not include a reference to Jesus, whom the Church asserts to be its central figure. As a general policy, however, while the Church prefers the use of its full name, use of the term LDS or Mormon is not considered offensive or incorrect.

Saturday, December 2, 2006


Mormonism is a term used to describe religious, ideological, and cultural aspects of the various Latter Day Saint churches. The term Mormonism is often used to describe the belief systems of those who believe in the Book of Mormon, a sacred text which Mormons believe was translated by Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1829 from golden plates, described as the sacred writings of the inhabitants of North and South America from approximately 650 BC to 100 AD. In 1830 Smith published the Book of Mormon and restored the Church of Christ, and the faithful were known amongst themselves as Latter Day Saints. Outside the church, church members have come to be called Mormons because of their belief in the Book of Mormon as the restoration of their religion. As the result of a revelation in 1838, the name to the Church was officially changed to the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints".[1] After the death of Joseph Smith, the majority of Smith's followers were led by Brigham Young to the Salt Lake Valley in the current state of Utah. The remaining saints stayed in Missouri organizing themselves in various sects.

After The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned the practice of plural marriage, more sects emerged in support of the practice usually in the form of polygyny. Mormonism is generally used to describe the main body of the Utah sect exclusively, mainly due to its prominance amongst Latter Day Saint denominations, but the practice of plural marriage is still heavily associated with Mormonism despite the church's efforts to distance itself and the term from polygamy. Other sects embrace or accept the term Mormonism, including the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, other Mormon fundamentalist organizations, Reform Mormonism, and cultural Mormons.

Most adherents of Mormonism may be respectfully called Latter Day Saints (or the hyphenated Latter-day Saints in reference to the largest denomination).[citation needed] Other generally acceptable terms include LDS, Saints, and Mormons. A minority of adherents object to the terms Mormon and Mormonism, since these are terms coined by outsiders to label members of the Church.

Mormon fundamentalism

Mormon fundamentalism is a splinter movement of Mormonism that believes or practices what its adherents consider to be the fundamental aspects of Mormonism. Most often, Mormon fundamentalism represents a break from the dominant brand of Mormonism practiced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), and a return to Mormon doctrines and practices which adherents believe the LDS Church has wrongly abandoned, such as plural marriage, the Law of Consecration, the Adam-God theory, the Patriarchal Priesthood, elements of the Mormon Endowment ritual, and often the exclusion of Blacks from the priesthood. Mormon fundamentalists have formed numerous sects, many of which have established small, cohesive, and isolated communities in areas of the Western United States, as well as Canada and Mexico.

Among the doctrines of Mormon fundamentalism, plural marriage is generally considered the most central and significant doctrine separating fundamentalists from the rest of the Latter Day Saint movement. Plural marriage was practiced by the movement's founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., and by some of his successors in some Latter Day Saint denominations, most notably the LDS Church, which continued the practice until about 1890, following intense pressure from the United States government which continued to deny Utah statehood if the LDS church practiced polygamy.

Most Mormon fundamentalists believe that the doctrine of plural marriage is a fundamental element of Mormonism, and that its renunciation by the LDS church was a mistake. Many Mormon fundamentalists have formed polygynous families, and built remote communities in the West, particularly in Utah and Arizona, where they have little contact from the outside world. Other Mormon fundamentalists, though believing in the doctrine of plural marriage, have not actually taken up the practice.

The LDS Church will excommunicate any of its members who advocate or practice plural marriage, or that actively support fundamentalist groups. Although there continues to be a very small minority of LDS Church members who believe in the doctrine without practicing it, the LDS Church prevents any of its members who sympathize with Mormon fundamentalists from attending its temples.

The LDS Church considers the word "Mormon" to apply only to its members, not to members of other sects of the Latter Day Saint movement. They have stated there is no such thing as a "Mormon fundamentalist," nor are there "Mormon sects." They conclude that a correct term to describe these polygamist groups is "polygamist sects." Polygamy: Questions and Answers with the Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on May 31, 2006.