Monday, February 5, 2007

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.