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.