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Mormons What is Mormonism? Who is a Mormon? And what place does Mormonism have in the religious tradition of the United States today? This paper will attempt to give readers a better understanding of the Mormon religion by detailing the history of the religion from its beginnings to today. It will also describe what a typical church or “temple” (as Mormons call their place of worship) service is like. It will also describe any holidays the Mormon people celebrate that correspond with the Christian holidays of other Christian sects. It will not attempt to judge the Mormon religion, as either good or bad, as has been so frequently done in the popular media. Rather than judging it, this paper will attempt to achieve a greater understanding of the religion in its context in the Christian religious tradition and the American religious tradition. In 1820, according to the Mormon faith, Joseph Smith (1806-1844) prayed to God to ask him for a sign that would tell him what church he ought to join. Instead, Jesus Christ and God appeared to the young man and told him he ought to found what the Mormon Church is today. Smith was fourteen at the time, a farmer from the region of western New York known as the "burned-over district" because of its unrelenting religious enthusiasm. (All About Mormons Website) Mormons believe that this revelation to Smith was similar to that of God to Saul. They refer to Smith as “The Prophet” because his revelation was transmitted to him directly by God. It was not reached through the intellect, but through accessing the divine itself through religious experience. Smith put his teachings into a new book, called The Book of Mormon, which he published in 1830. This text became the foundation for his new religion. The Book of Mormon is not a reflection upon the sacred texts of the Bible, bur rather like the New Testament stands in relationship to the Old in most Christian teachings, The Book of Mormon is thought to stand in relationship to the New and Old Testaments. It is a sacred text in and of itself. (All About Mormons Website) The Book of Mormon states that seven years earlier the angel Moroni appeared before Joseph Smith and told him of a book written on gold plates and buried in a hill outside Manchester, New York. Then, on September 22, 1837, after other visitations from Moroni the plates were turned over to Smith. Over the next twenty-four months, Smith and a few trusted associates, using special, ancient, "seer" stones, "translated" the Egyptian hieroglyphics of the plates into English. When they had finished this arduous task, Smith reported that holy fire consumed the plates. (Scott, “Mormonism and the American Mainstream.” The newness of the sacred religion of Smith is one of the reasons many individuals find the Mormon religion so difficult to understand and accept, often referring to it as a cult. Even in the evangelical context of its day, Mormonism was regarded with suspicion. Joseph Smith and his followers provoked ridicule for Mormonism's seemingly magical if not superstitious origins, and opposition as a heresy that dared to claim itself "the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth." (Scott, “Mormonism and the American Mainstream.”) The idea of a new revelation by God in such relatively recent times is profoundly upsetting to many individuals, and religions frequently cast the Biblical era as an era ‘back then’ when miracles were possible. ‘Back then’ revelation was a constant thing, unlike today. Today, the Bible is supposed to be fixed a closed cannon. The scholar of religion Mircea Eliade calls this division of sacred time and profane time to be one of the hallmarks of religious thought. (Eliade 14) According to the division of the sacred and the profane so common in Christian thought, direct communication between God and humanity was thought to be somehow easier, more porous than it is now. Mormonism thus goes counter to all of these assumptions about human being’s relationship to God. Mormons believe that the discovery of the Book of Mormon is the fulfillment of the promises and predictions of the earlier texts in the New and Old Testaments. The Book of Mormon is referred to as the "sealed" book, described in the Book of Isaiah, the appearance of which would signal the coming of the "end-times" predicted in the Book of Revelation. In this, Mormonism reflected the evangelical tone so common to the revival meetings in Smith’s area. ”The Mormons identify themselves as "saints," the new Israelites called out from the Gentiles to usher in the millennium. The Book of Mormon revealed that on the day it "spoke out of the ground," a prophet, named Joseph like his father, would appear. With the aid of revelations delivered to Joseph directly from God, he would establish the Godly kingdom on earth that would prepare the way for Christ's Second Coming. (All About Mormons Website) However, Mormonism’s emphasis on recent religious experience has also caused many to call it a quintessentially American religion. Its emphasis on religious experience as opposed to knowledge and the received wisdom of a ‘before-time’ has caused many to call it the only truly American religion. What is most significant historically about Mormonism is not only that it is another Christian sect or denomination like the Baptists or the Quakers but that it was only new religious tradition founded entirely within the borders of nineteenth-century America that still exists today. Mormonism considers the United States itself to be a sacred territory, not only the Holy Land of the Bible. It thus gelled well with contemporary notions of American’s ‘Manifest Destiny’ to explore the wilderness. The historian of religion and psychologist William James stated, in one of his famous lectures at Harvard University on the nature of religious experience and its importance in the American tradition, “in the case of Joseph Smith…the inspiration seems to have been predominantly sensorial.” (James 482)
He [Smith] began his translation by the aid of the ‘peep-stones’ that he found, or thought or said that he found, with the gold plates--apparently, a case of crystal gazing.’ For some of the other revelations he used the peep-stones, but seems generally to have asked the Lord for more direct instruction. (482)

James notes in a footnote to the text of his speech (the italics are not his):

It may be very interesting for you to know that the President [Mr. Snow] of the Mormon Church claims to have had a number of revelations very recently from heaven. “To explain fully what these revelations are, it is necessary to know that we, as a people, believe that the Church of Jesus Christ has again been established through messengers sent from heaven. This Church has at its head a prophet, seer, and revelator, who gives to man god’s holy will. Revelation is the means through which the will of God is declared directly and in fullness of man. These revelations are got through dreams of sleep or in waking visions of the mind, by voices without visional appearance, or by actual manifestations of the Holy presence before ht eye. We believe that God has come in person and spoken to our prophet and revelator.” (482-483)

It is also important to remember that when Mormonism was first founded, America was filled with different sects spawned by the evangelical revival, of which the Mormons were only one. When the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as it came to be officially designated, first emerged on the religious scene in 1830, it was simply one of many developing sects. These “often short-lived, new religious groups born amidst the spiritual ferment of mid-nineteenth-century America,” writes Donald Scott of Queens College of the CUNY system in New York City in his article on Mormonism and the American Mainstream. But, Scott continues, by the mid-1840s, Mormonism had established itself as a dynamic and distinctive new religious tradition. By 1845, it boasted nearly 40,000 adherents. By 1870, it encompassed 120,000. Today, with over seven million members in the United States alone, Mormonism is among the fastest growing of the world's religions. Today, the Mormon religion is largely based in Utah. However, Smith was originally based in upstate New York. Feeling persecuted by his neighbors, he and his followers moved West. Separate Mormon settlements were established in Kirtland, Ohio, and in Independence, Missouri. Kirtland became the seat of the prophet where in l836 the Mormons built and consecrated an elaborate temple. “In both places, they isolated themselves from their neighbors, and, much as other nineteenth-century religious groups like the Shakers or the Amish, set up cohesive, economically self-sufficient and largely self-governing communities, setting themselves up not simply as a group of worshipers but as a people apart,” writes Scott. Yet, according to the All About Mormons Website, neither Ohio nor Missouri provided adequate refuge against the hostility of neighbors suspicious of Mormon belief and fearful of Mormonism's growing numbers and economic prosperity and power. In 1833 their Missouri neighbors attacked the settlement, forcing the Mormons to abandon Independence. Opposition also intensified back in Ohio and by early l838 most of the Kirtland Mormons, led by the prophet, had departed for Missouri, where they joined forces with their Independence co-religionists who had resettled in a county organized especially for them. The tension between the Mormons and, as they called them, their “Gentile” neighbors escalated into armed conflict, and the saints were forced to flee once again. The Mormons called their neighbors “Gentiles,” not to antagonize them but because they viewed themselves as the new Israelites, fleeing persecution in search of their Promised Land. In the spring of 1839, nearly 15,000 Mormons crossed into Illinois, where they purchased the town of Commerce, which they renamed Nauvoo. In Nauvoo, Smith completed the process of organizational and doctrinal consolidation begun in Kirtland. (All About Mormons Website) Scott writes of this period in Mormon history: “What had begun as an effort to recover the clarity and simplicity of early Christianity and the pure and authoritative forms of the apostolic church, developed into a more doctrinally complex and more elaborate and hierarchical religious structure.” Yet perhaps because of the strong leadership structure Young gave to his new faith, Mormonism, unlike so many of the other sects of the evangelical revival, was able to survive. (Scott, “Mormonism and the American Mainstream) Smith began to embrace a form of organization more along the lines ancient Hebraic models rather than the Early Christian ones he had favored before. In addition to deacons, elders, priests and bishops, he instituted a "First Presidency," composed of Smith as president and two counselors, a high counsel, a special Quorum of Seventy, a Council of Twelve Apostles. It was also at this time that he received another revelation from God concerning "celestial marriage.” This doctrine became the basis for the revelation the practice of "plural marriages,” one of the most notorious parts of Mormonism’s history. It is important to note that the U.S. Congress declared polygamy illegal by the Edmunds Act of l882 and the Mormons themselves have long relinquished their most controversial doctrine, though certain Mormon splinter groups still continue the practice. (All About Mormons Website) The growth of the Mormon’s economic and political power, as well as this new doctrine perhaps, caused many of the Illinois ‘gentiles’ to fear this new sect. In June, Joseph Smith and his brother were arrested, dragged from jail, and murdered by a group of militia. After Smith's murder, the Mormons regrouped and under the leadership of Brigham Young (1847-1877), selected as Smith's successor as prophet and president, undertook the "great trek" westward to the Utah Territory, where they established Mormonism’s current place of abode in Great Salt Lake City. (All About Mormons Website) Mormonism still incurs a great deal of fear and suspicion because of the secrecy surrounding Mormon places of worship. In his article, “Inside a Mormon Temple,” Isaiah Bennett describes his experiences with a Mormon Temple as an adherent of the religion, although he no longer practices Mormonism and has converted to Catholicism. In his article, he describes the practice of baptism of one’s ancestors, another controversial practice of the Mormon Church. This ritual is undertaken because “it is the goal of the Mormon Church to have all members of the human race be sealed to their lineal ancestors in a direct course leading back to Adam and Eve.”

Perhaps no more than twenty percent of the Church memberships are "temple Mormons," holders of the coveted recommend that permits entrance into any of the nearly fifty Mormon temples throughout the world. With documentation in hand, the patron enters through the doors of the temple and presents his recommend at the front desk, where a male temple worker checks its authenticity. This worker, along with most of the temple workers, is a volunteer, usually a retired person serving eight or more hours weekly in the temple. Everyone in the temple dresses in white, both workers and patrons. The men wear white shirts, ties, pants, socks, and shoes or slippers. The women’s white dresses cover them from neck to ankle.

…Most Mormons who attend temples do so on behalf of someone who is dead. Only at his first visit does a Mormon undertake the various ceremonies in his own name, for his own sake…Heavy emphasis is placed on the symbolism of the place, the clothing, the actions, and the words. Mormons are encouraged to attend the temple often, both for their own spiritual growth and to help further the salvation of the dead. It is by constant participation in the temple rituals that the Mormon is expected to come to understand and appreciate them better.

Bennett stresses not only the secret, closed nature of the Mormon community, but how it differs from other notions of Christianity, with its emphasis on public affirmations:

…There is no worship as such in a Mormon temple. No public prayer is offered…Baptisms for the dead are always administered in a baptismal font large enough for at least two people to stand in. The font is supported on the backs of twelve sculpted oxen. The patron (youngsters from the age of twelve may qualify), dressed in a white jumpsuit, steps into the water where he is met by a man holding the proper authority and is immersed completely. Baptisms performed in the temple are done only for the dead (the living members have already received their baptism in a stake meeting house). The words of administration are therefore: "Brother Smith [the patron], having authority of Jesus Christ, I baptize you for and on behalf of John Jones, who is dead, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." Males are baptized for males, females for females…When the baptism portion is completed, the patron returns to the locker room and dresses. He then submits to "confirmation" or the laying on of hands, again only for the deceased. Two males having authority place their hands on the patron’s head while a third recites the confirmation prayer on behalf of the dead. The patron may sit for several minutes and be confirmed for many dead persons.

Despite the secrecy that has clouded its history and surrounds its ritual space and life, Mormonism cannot be divided from the traditions of Christianity. It has created many of its own rituals, as are evident in Bennett’s description. Yet it also shares numerous holidays with more “conventional” forms of Christianity as well. According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, quoted in the All About Mormons Website, “generally speaking, Latter-day Saints celebrate the holidays associated with their particular culture.” This means that Mormons do form a distinct community and have distinct worship practices, for “through their religious and community celebrations, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints express some of their spiritual and social values and expectations." Yet Mormons do celebrate Christmas and Easter, although "Latter-day Saints are cautioned that holiday shopping, decorating, and festivities should not obscure the remembrance of Christ nor hinder the quest for peace on earth." This mild warning is similar to that given by many religious organizations during the Christmas time, and in fact seems rather gentle in comparison to some preachers of other sects. Also, the Website states that “Latter-Day Saints Easter services traditionally review New Testament and Book of Mormon accounts of Christ's crucifixion, his resurrection, and surrounding events." The Website’s language seems particularly anxious that Mormon celebrations of Christmas and Easter, both the most commonly observed of the Christian holidays in America, and also the most secular of the holidays in their place in the most non-religious households, are observed. The Latter-Day Saints today thus maintain the secrecy of their religion, yet desire to seem normal in that they celebrate Christian and Easter, like good Americans, that they do “have Christmas,” and even Halloween. “A member of the Church discusses ways to keep Halloween activities consistent with the companionship of the Holy Ghost, it says.” The 20th Century Mormon Church both wishes to show itself as distinct from American society and integrated into its fabric, as is appropriate perhaps, because it is surely a product of American thought and culture as well as a great contributor to it.

Works Cited

All About Mormons Website http.// Isaiah Bennett. “Inside a Mormon Temple.” This Rock, 1995.

Mircea Eliade. The Sacred & the Profane—The Nature of Religion. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1957

William James. The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: Penguin Classics, 1985.

Donald Scott. “Mormonism and the American Mainstream.” National Humanities Center Website.

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... Christianity Evangelical Protestant Mainline Protestant Historically Black Churches Roman Catholic Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) Jehovah’s Witnesses Orthodox (Greek, Eastern) Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform) Buddhism (Theravada or Mahayana) Islam (Sunni, Shia, Sufism) Hinduism Racial/ethnic groups (based on divisions in U.S. Census Bureau documents) Asian (Asian descent) Black (African descent) Hispanic and Latino (South or Central American descent) Pacific Islander (Polynesian descent) White (European descent) Part II Write a 750- to 1,400-word paper in which you consider the following regarding the religious group and racial/ethnic group you selected: Religious group: How does your selected religious group differ from other religious groups (such as in their beliefs, worship practices, or values)? According to social and political views, the Mormon religion is different and therefore, is most noticeable than that of the population in general, and other religions. Their conservation towards political and culture issues are different. A vast amount of Mormons say that definite rulings of right and wrong are strongly held. The Mormons feel that the values they have are felt threatened often by Hollywood. The Mormons are considered to be Republican a lot more when it comes to other traditions of important religions. This includes members of the Evangelical Protestant churches. They seem......

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Hum 130 Appendix B

...Axia College Material Appendix B 7 Question Final Project Plan |What religion would you like to consider for your final project? | | |Describe the place of worship you will visit. |Mormonism and I would look around t find the closest Mormon | | |church to visit. | | | | |What do you already know about this topic? | | | |I have a friend who is Mormon and his family practices the faith.| | | | |What resource will you use to find a place of worship for this | | |religion? | | | |I will use the internet since it the best updated resource | | |available to......

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