The Mormons are the members of a Christian Millenarian movement, also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In 1823, Joseph Smith (1805–1844) claimed to have visions and published his mystical writings as the Book of Mormon (1829). The book was a curious admixture of religious concepts and mythical history, including the far-flung belief that Native Americans (who apparently underwent experiences similar to those written in the Old Testament) were, in fact, the lost tribe of Israel.
Like other Christian denominations, the Mormons embrace Millennialism (the Latin root means “one thousand years”), maintaining that a Golden Age is coming, during which Christ will reign. Still, Mormon beliefs diverge sharply from orthodox Christianity, which they view as a corrupt faith. Mormon beliefs include an expectation of a Second Coming of Christ, baptism of adults, and belief in prophecy.
They accept a highly American form of Millenarianism. In particular, they hold that Jesus Christ was revealed to early immigrants in America, and they would found a new Jerusalem there.
Smith organized the first Mormon community in Fayette, New York, but soon encountered persecution, not to mention disagreements within the community, and he headed west to Ohio, then to Missouri, and finally in 1840 to Nauvoo, Illinois. His opposition only grew after he sanctioned polygamy. In June 1844, following a general breakdown in order, Smith was lynched and assassinated by a mob in Carthage, Illinois. Leadership of the Mormons then passed to Brigham Young, who led them to Utah. Polygamy was renunciated by the church in 1890.
Way of Life
The Mormon way of life is distinguished by order and respect for authority, church activism, strong conformity with the group, and vigorous proselytizing and missionary activities.
As an example of the strictness of the faith, the official pamphlet “Dating and Courtship” calls passionate kissing prior to marriage a sin. The church advises young people not to engage in any behavior with anyone that they would not do with a brother or sister while in the presence of their parents. The church also discourages interracial dating. The edict is that unless the young people who do marry outside the temple repent quickly, they cut themselves off from exaltation in the celestial Kingdom of God.
As for military service, the church considers it a duty of its members. However, any member can opt for conscientious objection, but not by giving the church as a reason for it. The church discourages conscientious objection, and, in fact, endorses a corps of chaplains who serve in the United States armed services.
Mormons believe that faithful members of the church will inherit eternal life as gods, and even those who had rejected God’s law would live in glory.
The Church of Latter Day Saints is world famous for its genealogy repository, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. It boasts more than 2 billion names and is considered the finest such repository in the world. The church has made available, free to church members and nonmembers alike, over 600 million names for research purposes on its Family Search website on the Internet. It encourages its members to trace their ancestors as a religious obligation. This service is now available to anyone.