Patrick Q. Mason Armand L. Mauss

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints


1805 (December 23)  Joseph Smith, Jr. was is born in Sharon, Vermont.

1816  The Smith family moved from Vermont to western New York near Rochester.

1820  Joseph Smith, Jr. experienced his “First Vision.”

1823  Smith reported experiencing the first of four annual visions of the Angel Moroni and learned of the record compiled by the ancient prophet Mormon.

1827  Smith reported retrieving the ancient record on gold plates from the Hill Cumorah.

1830 (March)  The Book of Mormon , translated from the plates, was published.

1830 (April 6)  The Church of Christ, later renamed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was formally organized in Manchester, New York.

1830 (October)  Mormon missionaries en route to Indian territory stopped in Ohio and converted Campbellite preacher Sidney Rigdon and most of his followers.

1831 (January)  Joseph Smith moved his flock from New York to Kirtland, Ohio.

1831-1838  Several hundred converts from the Kirtland area and elsewhere joined the new Mormon movement and built a temple and various economic enterprises, including a bank, the failure of which led to mass apostasy.

1831 (July)  Smith received a revelation identifying Jackson County, Missouri, as the location of the new Zion for the gathering of God’s people. An advance contingent of Mormons began moving there.

1833-1839  Clashes between Mormons and others in Missouri became increasingly violent as Mormons moved from county to county and finally were driven from the state.

1839-1840  As refugees in Illinois, Mormons acquired a settlement and renamed it “Nauvoo.” It became the new gathering place for the growing Mormon membership from the U.S., Canada , and the British Isles .

1840-1842  Nauvoo became a booming city rivaling Chicago in population.

1843-1845  Smith introduced controversial new doctrines, rituals, and practices, including plural marriage, causing internal dissension, external persecution, political isolation, and eventually Smith’s assassination by a mob in June, 1844.

1846-1847  The Church was fragmented by a succession crisis. Most members followed Brigham Young to temporary way stations on either side of the Missouri River in Iowa and Nebraska. From there they traveled to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake as the new gathering place.

1847-1877  The Mormons under Young established hundreds of towns and communities around the Great Basin of the Rocky Mountains, and applied for U.S. statehood for their “state of Deseret .” Young sought to maintain theocratic control over both politics and the economy, and he greatly expanded the practice of polygyny. However, he died in August, 1877.

1877-1890  Under Young’s successors, the Mormons coped with the increasing influx of non-Mormons bringing new industries, enterprises, and political preferences. Federal legislative, judicial, and executive actions eventually led Mormons to drop polygamy as a policy.

1890-1910  The LDS Church fully abandoned the practice of polygamy, gained statehood for Utah, and survived a contentious struggle to seat Apostle Reed Smoot of Utah in the U.S. Senate. The Mormons began a deliberate campaign for assimilation into American society and politics.

1910-1940  Mormons responded patriotically to the First World War and began taking a more international outlook. Many started leaving Utah for educational and occupational opportunities, mainly in cities along the two coasts of the country. Government programs, especially during the depression of the 1930s, were supplemented by the Mormons’ own extensive social service and economic welfare programs.

1940-1960  Mormons (of various nationalities) served honorably in the Second World War. American Mormons made extensive use of the veterans’ benefits in the “G. I. Bill” after the war. Mormons divided themselves equally between the two political parties and consistently voted with the majority in presidential elections. Assimilation in American society seemed complete as the Mormon public image improved in the mass media.

1960-2000  LDS Church membership increased seven fold worldwide to eleven million, half living outside the U. S. The Church launched a new system of organizational centralization and control, called “correlation,” with a retrenchment in doctrines and practices to resist the increasing secularization and liberalization in American culture.

1970-1980  Retrenchment was expressed politically as the LDS Church opposed the national campaign for an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution and strengthened its own internal gender distinctions. It resisted national criticism of its restrictive racial policies until 1978, when it finally dropped its ban on priesthood ordination and temple rituals for African Americans and even extended its proselytizing to Africa itself.

1980-2008  The retrenchment policy continued with public excommunications of internal critics and campaigns against same-sex marriage in various states. Rapid growth continued, especially in Latin America and the Philippines.

2008 and 2012  Prominent Mormon Mitt Romney campaigned for the presidency of the United States, achieving the Republican nomination in 2012. His Mormon connection was an issue for some but with only ambiguous effects on his campaigns.

2010-present  The LDS Church began to roll back retrenchment by glossing over some of its traditionally controversial teachings; softening its policies toward gender distinctions and homosexuals; and friendly re-engagement with its intellectuals. LDS Church membership reached fourteen million, including the over six million American Mormons that now make up the fourth largest denomination in the U.S.


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints emerged out of the religious populism and ferment of the northwestern frontier of the United States as that frontier was expanding in the early nineteenth century, a period known in religious history as the”Second Great Awakening.” Joseph Smith, Jr., was the third son in a large and impecunious family that had originated in New England but had in 1816 moved to upstate New York and settled in Palmyra (near Rochester) in the Finger Lakes area, just as the Erie Canal was being built. This area was called “the burned-over district” by historian Whitney Cross (1950) because of the proliferation of revivals and other religious activities and competitions during the 1820s.

The Smith family was devoutly religious but without strong denominational ties, and so young Joseph Jr. was both deeply touched by the pervasive religious discourse and confused by the competitive claims of the various preachers. Though his mother leaned toward the Presbyterians and the Methodists, and his father toward the Universalists, Joseph decided to take literally the injunction in James 1:5 and seek answers directly from God himself about which denomination to join. Accordingly, in the spring of 1820, while he was still fourteen years old, he sought seclusion for prayer in a thick grove near his home. The response took the form of a profound theophany known to his followers as the First Vision. There are several accounts of this vision, not all of which agree in all details, but the official version (dated 1838) describes an appearance of two separate divine persons, identified respectively as God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ, who directed Joseph to join none of the existing denominations, for all of them were flawed (Bushman 2005; Brodie 1945; Hill 1977).

With this assurance, young Joseph went on with his life as a teenager, helping his father and family in various ways to scrape together a living while continuing as an observer and occasional participant in the local religious scene. According to the hagiographic account, in the fall of 1823, he experienced the first of four annual visions in which he reported being visited by a resurrected personage who identified himself as Moroni (pronounced mo-ró-nye), the last survivor in mortality of an ancient people inhabiting America until their destruction at the hands of a rival people about 400 CE. Moroni revealed that during his final days on earth he had engraved an account of his people on golden sheets or plates, which he had then buried near the top of a hill called Cumorah (kuh-mó-rah). This hill happened to be only three miles from the Smith home, and in 1827 the angel Moroni gave Joseph instructions for locating and recovering the buried golden plates. They were written in an ancient language which Joseph was given the divine power to translate in a matter of months, after which he returned the plates to the custody of Moroni. With the help of scribes among his disciples, one in particular, the translation was rendered into fully literate English and finally published in Palmyra in 1830 as the 500-page Book of Mormon (Mormon being the name of Moroni’s father, who had begun the compilation that Moroni as a mortal had finished and buried).

The book represented itself as a history of an ancient Hebrew people that had escaped from Israel about 600 BCE, just prior to the Babylonian captivity, and made its way across the ocean (presumably the Pacific) to the Western Hemisphere, eventually establishing a high civilization there. During its thousand-year history, this people had split into two rival populations, one of which eventually destroyed the other in a prolonged civil war, largely over religious differences. Among the most important claims in the book was that Jesus Christ, after his crucifixion and resurrection in Palestine , had visited these ancient Hebrews in America and taught them his religion. Like the Hebrew scriptures, the Book of Mormon is divided into books by various ancient prophets who lived and taught their people in the new world. In the earlier centuries of their civilization, their teachings were both Hebrew and proto-Christian in anticipation of the visit of the resurrected Christ. Thereafter, the teachings were fully Christian in ways that converged well with the popular Protestantism of Joseph Smith’s time and place. Given those teachings, Smith promulgated the book as a second witness for the divinity of Jesus, and the LDS Church officially added a subtitle to that effect in versions of the book published since 1982 (“Another Testament of Jesus Christ”). The rest of the Christian world, however, does not accept the authenticity of this claim, and so the book is generally relegated to the category of sacred pseudepigrapha. It also served, however, to provide the colloquial name (Mormons) for Smith’s followers (Givens 2003, 2009; Hardy 2003).

Quite apart from the actual teachings in the Book of Mormon, it proved to have considerable popular appeal simply as a new and unusual phenomenon among the many seekers in frontier America at the time, starting with friends and relatives of the Smiths (Brooke 1994; Quinn 1998). The first printing of 5,000 didn’t last long. Meanwhile, Joseph, sometimes in the company of one or more disciples, continued to receive visitations and instructions from heavenly messengers, some of whom bestowed upon him the apostolic priesthood that presumably had been lost through the gradual apostasy of the original church back in the Patristic era. With the priesthood thus restored through the ordinations of Joseph and a few disciples, they now claimed authorization to organize anew the ancient Church of Christ , which they did with a small band of followers on April 6, 1830 . Eventually, the organization was given the formal name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to distinguish it from the ancient Christians (now considered the “former-day Saints”). The Mormon story throughout the rest of the nineteenth century is a remarkable one of increasingly heterodox teachings and social experiments, severe persecution, relocations through several states, and recurring conflicts, often violent, with local, state, and federal governments. Mormons commonly think of their own history, in fact, in terms of periods identified with the various relocations precipitated by these conflicts.

The first of these, after the New York founding, is considered by Mormon scholars as the Kirtland (Ohio) Period, 1831-1837. In the fall of 1830, a small party of missionaries was sent by Joseph Smith to preach to Indians (Native Americans) just across the Missouri River , whom they believed to be descendants of the Israelite civilization described in the Book of Mormon. The missionaries were instructed, during their journey, to tarry in any receptive locations, sell the Book of Mormon, and preach of the newly restored LDS Church and gospel of Jesus Christ. When the party arrived in Kirtland, near Cleveland in northern Ohio , they came upon another region permeated by religious factions and experiments of all kinds (Staker 2009). These included a large Campbellite community, a Christian communal farm, and a number of groups and individuals dabbling in pentecostal enthusiasms. The pastor of the Campbellite community, Sidney Rigdon, was converted by his reading of the Book of Mormon and soon led a large portion of his flock into Mormonism with him. Isaac Morley, who had founded the Christian commune, brought in still more converts and also injected into Mormonism a strong ethos of communal and cooperative living that has survived importantly even to the present day.

With these new Kirtland converts, the LDS Church suddenly doubled and tripled in size, becoming the de facto center of Mormonmembership and activity. Accordingly, with hostility continuing in Palmyra , Joseph Smith moved to Kirtland in early 1831, along with his family and most of the original converts who had joined in New York . During the next several years, he received and recorded many new revelations about doctrines and practices, some of which have survived as important markers of the Mormon way of life even now (e. g., the “Word of Wisdom,” requiring abstention from alcohol, tobacco, and “hot drinks,” interpreted as coffee and tea). By 1836, a temple had been built in Kirtland at great sacrifice for a community with such meager resources. Its dedication was accompanied by a proliferation of collective visions, tongues, and other pentecostal or charismatic events, as well as new rituals (Backman 1983).

An unsuccessful effort was made to establish an economic regime of a communitarian kind, in which surpluses from some members would be distributed to less fortunate others. An attempt was made also to establish a bank with its own currency, but state and federal banking laws of the time were somewhat chaotic, and the general national Panic of 1837 undermined any hopes for success that Smith and his associates might have had. Every new doctrine, program, or policy that was announced generated discontent in one or another quarter of a membership that was already rather fractious, and by 1837 mass apostasies had occurred, involving even some of Smith’s closest associates in the leadership, a few of whom even joined forces with outside persecutors. At the end of that year, Joseph and his family evacuated Kirtland for western Missouri , where a large Mormon colony had already been established in response to an earlier revelation. Kirtland Saints still loyal to Joseph followed him there in the spring of 1838.

The Missouri Period (1831-1838) overlapped somewhat with the Kirtland Period, since Mormons had been urged by their prophet to settle in both locations. Jackson County, Missouri, had been identified, in an early revelation to Joseph Smith, as Zion, the ultimate gathering place for the Latter-day Saints as they awaited and prepared for the return of the resurrected Messiah. They would be joined there by a contemporaneous gathering of the lost Israelite tribes (including the Native American peoples), except for the tribe of Judah (the Jews), which would be gathered to ancient Israel to receive the returning Messiah there, as prophesied in Chapter fourteen of the Book of Zechariah . It was, indeed, while an advance party of Mormons was en route to Missouri that they had encountered the Kirtland Campbellites and others who seemed so responsive to the Mormon message. The successes at Kirtland, however, did not distract the Saints from their Missouri aspirations, and so for several years there were, in effect, two gathering places, each under the authority of different apostles and bishops appointed by Smith. However, the growing presence of the Mormons in Missouri proved to be at least as unwelcome to the local non-Mormon citizenry there as it had been in Kirtland. Not only did the Missouri Mormons announce publicly that God had given them Jackson County as their promised land, but they also were cultivating relationships with the nearby Indians and seemed to be welcoming freed blacks as LDS Church members. None of this went over well with a Missouri population that had arrived there in large part from the slave-holding southern states (Gentry and Compton 2010).

As the Mormon population in Missouri increased (eventually to about 12,000), the local non-Mormons recognized them as a growing political threat and responded with increasingly violent mob action. The Mormons then fled from Jackson County north into the next county (Clay), where at first they were welcomed as refugees, but with the understanding that their stay would be only temporary. Appeals to the state government for help in resolving the conflicts led to the creation of a new county (Caldwell) just for the Mormons, who, however, did not understand the terms as confining their expansion only to that one county, and so in time their settlements spread into other adjacent counties. Various skirmishes between the Saints and the locals, each with their own militias, led to further appeals to, and interventions of, the state government. Finally, near the end of 1838, in response to reports of Mormon atrocities, the state governor, Lilburn Boggs, issued an order that the Mormons were to be either expelled from the state or exterminated. Several LDS Church leaders, including Joseph Smith, were jailed on the charge of treason and related offenses, while the Saints, again as refugees, fled to the hospitality offered them in Quincy, Illinois, 250 miles eastward (LeSueur 1987). When Smith, along with his colleagues, was finally released from jail in early 1839 (through an “escape” plot actually contrived by his jailors), he joined his followers and began searching for yet another gathering place in Illinois .

Though possessing only a few resources with which to bargain, Smith and his apostles eventually found a small and swampy settlement that could be had on easy terms. Here the Saints were to gather yet again and, as it turned out, for the rest of their prophet’s short life. Located up the Mississippi River about forty miles north of Quincy, the spot had been called Commerce, but the Saints soon changed the name to Nauvoo (pronounced Naw-vú), which they claimed meant “beautiful” in a certain reading of Hebrew and which would provide the name for the next period of Mormon history (1839-1846). With the help of a friend in the state legislature, the LDS Church leaders succeeded in getting a city charter that gave Nauvoo a lot of independence, and the Saints set to work draining the swamps and building a city, including again an imposing temple. Within about five years, the city rivaled Chicago in population and therefore became once again a source of political concern to the rest of the county, partly because of the growing theocratic tendencies in its governance. Equally vexing, however, both inside and outside the LDS Church, were various innovations and experimentations in doctrines and practices introduced by Joseph Smith, including plural marriage (or polygamy). The resulting conflicts led eventually and directly to Joseph Smith’s assassination, in June, 1844, at the hands of a mob while he awaited trial on various charges in nearby Carthage , the Hancock County seat (Flanders 1965; Leonard 2002).

As is so often the case with new religious movements, the sudden removal of the prophet created a succession crisis in the Mormon leadership. Joseph Smith had actually made different provisions for succession at different times in his career, and so naturally there were conflicting claims among leaders and potential leaders, including his eldest son, still a minor but represented by his mother (Joseph’s widow Emma) and her supporters. Half or more of the Mormons, however, followed the leadership of the twelve apostles, headed by Brigham Young. The rest divided into factions following other claimants. Meanwhile, the surrounding non-Mormons, seeing that the Saints were demoralized and divided by the martyrdom of their prophet, began to harass them politically and physically, with periodic incursions of mobs and thieves into Nauvoo and its surrounding Mormon settlements. As Brigham Young consolidated his authority and control, he organized and led a hurried withdrawal of his followers from Nauvoo, across the Mississippi River into Iowa early in 1846, even while simultaneously finishing the construction of the new temple for the last-minute performance of sacred rituals before the mass departure.

After months of a miserable trek on muddy trails across Iowa, the Mormon refugees stopped at the Missouri River to rest, reorganize, and plan for an eventual continuation of their westward journey into Mexican territory in the Rocky Mountains (Bennett 1997, 2004). As matters turned out, this transitional location (usually called Winter Quarters) had a Mormon presence lasting as long as most earlier sojourns had lasted. The Saints established towns and settlements that endured between 1846 and 1853 on either side of the Missouri River (what later became Council Bluffs in Iowa and Omaha in Nebraska ). They simply didn’t have the resources to continue their trek without stopping for awhile to plant, build, and trade with local Indian tribes, itinerant traders, and other migrants. Their resources received a significant boost when during the summer of 1846, with the outbreak of war with Mexico, Brigham Young succeeded in negotiating a deal with the federal government. A Mormon battalion of 500 men would be enlisted in the army for a year and march into Mexico, while their salaries would be turned over to the LDS Church through their families. What turned out, in actual fact, was that the Mormon battalion marched 2,000 miles to San Diego (then part of Mexico) to secure southern California for the United States, but by the time they got there, Mexico had recently capitulated and the war was over (Ricketts 1996). Meanwhile, Young led an advance party on the long trek to the Salt Lake Valley , and the Winter Quarters settlements continued for several years to serve as a staging ground and way station for thousands of Mormons who eventually made the same trek to settle what was to become Utah (Stegner 1992). This great pioneer trek has played an important role in the Mormon collective memory. The pioneers’ eventual entrance into the Valley of the Great Salt Lake is commemorated with a state park and an impressive set of monuments. Every year thousands of Mormon teenagers, in various parts of the U.S. and elsewhere, spend part the summer pulling handcarts in staged reenactments of the great trek.

During the next generation (1847-1878), the Mormons were finally able to establish their storied kingdom in the West, which became a crucial part of the general American history of western settlement (Campbell 1988). By 1847, Brigham Young had achieved legitimation among his people as the rightful successor to Joseph Smith, and thus as President of the LDS Church and as the Prophet of the Lord. He continued to be challenged by other claimants to these titles who had remained in Illinois, Iowa, and elsewhere, but no significant and enduring counter-organization to the Utah LDS Church took place until 1860, when various surviving Mormon segments formed around Smith’s widow Emma in Illinois and proclaimed her son, Joseph Smith III, as the true successor to the founding prophet. Established as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), this denomination was regarded by Young and the Utah LDS as a serious rival organization for the rest of the nineteenth century (Edwards 1991; Launius 1995; Shields 1986). The RLDS, however, never presented a serious challenge to the growth and viability of the Utah LDS, whose ranks were swelled by tens of thousands of immigrant converts from Europe, and whose new “Great Basin Kingdom” was larger than the state of Texas (Arrington 1958).

Brigham Young proved to be an effective if controversial leader of the Utah Mormons throughout his life, which ended in August, 1877 (Arrington 1985; Bringhurst 1986; Turner 2012). By then, the population of the LDS Church exceeded 100,000 distributed in more than 300 towns and villages in a vast territory called by the Mormons the “state of Deseret” but known to everyone else as the federal territory of Utah. Young chafed under federal control and resisted it as much as possible, applying for official statehood several times in hopes of gaining the greater autonomy that states of the Union enjoyed prior to the Civil War. However, the rumors and the realities of Mormon heresies, theocratic rule, communitarian economic regimes, and (most of all) the widespread practice of polygyny (Daynes 2001), kept the Mormons in a relationship of recurrent turmoil with the rest of the country throughout the remainder of the century. This tension included at least one inconclusive attempt at the invasion of the Utah territory by a federal army in 1856-1857, known as the “Utah War” (Brooks 1950; Furniss 1960; MacKinnon 2008).

The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 greatly facilitated the immigration of converts to the Utah church but also brought increasing numbers of non-Mormons, especially those seeking economic opportunity as entrepreneurs and workers in newly opened mines and mercantile establishments of all kinds. Naturally the newcomers expected the same rights and opportunities found elsewhere in the nation, but equally understandable was the Mormon sense of ownership and entitlement to a territory and institutions of which they, after all, had been the founders at a very high cost. Increasing conflict was inevitable, especially over the Mormon theocratic arrangements underlying the politics of the territory, Mormon economic controls and resistance to free market activity, and the practice of polygyny (Firmage and Mangrum 1988). The latter institution brought increasingly punitive federal legislation leading to many prison sentences, especially for high-profile Mormon leaders, who often went underground to avoid capture. Meanwhile the Mormons continued testing the limits of religious freedom through the federal courts until the U. S. Supreme Court finally declared, in Reynolds vs. the United States (1878) that the U. S. constitution guaranteed freedom of religious belief and speech but not behavior otherwise proscribed by law, such as polygamy (Gordon 2001).

What followed was a remarkable reversal of the Mormon posture with four decades of political submission and assimilation (1879-1919). Brigham Young’s immediate successors at first struggled valiantly to maintain his vision of an ideal society, a Zion led by prophets of God who would restore religious institutions and practices from earlier ages in preparation for the imminent return ofChrist, the Messiah. Ultimately, however, they could not prevail against the growing numerical, political, legal, and military encroachments on their Zion from the outside. It took more than a decade after the Reynolds decision, and additional punitive legislation against the Mormons, for their president, Wilford Woodruff, to issue the Manifesto of 1890 abandoning polygyny as a policy. Yet an even longer period was required before the actual practice was finally brought to an end by a new generation of LDS Church leaders early in the twentieth century. Meanwhile, the long Utah campaign for statehood finally succeeded in 1896 as the Mormons eventually relinquished not only polygyny but also other such peculiar practices as communitarian economic programs and a LDS Church-sponsored political party (Lyman 1986). Eventually the Mormons distributed themselves more or less evenly between the two major national political parties (on the advice of LDS Church leaders), with preferences somewhat more Republican in the leadership but more Democratic in the rank and file.

The Republican affiliation of the new Mormon president (1901-1918), Joseph F. Smith (nephew of the founding prophet) proved expedient as he sought and received the help of the national Republican establishment, including President Theodore Roosevelt, in getting the U.S. Senate to accept and seat Reed Smoot, a Mormon apostle elected as a Republican senator from Utah in 1902. Smoot’s election turned out to be very controversial in the Senate, which, like the government more generally, remained suspicious about the continuation of both polygamy and theocracy in Utah . Smoot himself had never been a polygamist, but his case provided the symbolic and political opportunity for the Senate to indulge and satisfy its suspicions (Flake 2004). What ensued was a four-year inquiry involving even an extensive grilling under oath of the Mormon president himself, followed finally by a Senate vote on seating, which Smoot barely survived, partly with the help of Roosevelt’s personal intervention. He went on to serve prominently in the Senate until 1933, and Mormon religious affiliation was never again a serious obstacle in national politics. Nor was Mormon patriotism questioned again after the substantial contribution of Utah to the war effort in the Spanish-American War and First World War. Utah ‘s religious peculiarities seemed less and less salient also as its citizens voted with the national consensus on such issues as women’s suffrage and prohibition of alcohol, and as successive LDS Church leaders increasingly and conspicuously adopted a policy of assimilation into American society, rather than resistance to it.

Thus the first half of the twentieth century (up to the 1960s) can be described as a time of continuing and sincere Mormon rapprochmen t and assimilation with American society, both as LDS Church policy and as rank-and-file preference (Alexander 1986; Shepherd and Shepherd 1984; Yorgason 2003). In religion, the LDS Church became more pluralistic and tolerant in relationships with other denominations and embraced the King James Version of the Bible more or less officially (though it had always been a major part of the LDS scriptural canon). Its proselytizing program continued apace, of course, but its missionary methods increasingly deemphasized theological arguments in favor of showing how the Mormon teachings and way of life might add to people’s happiness and well-being. Yet its young missionaries continued to go by the thousands to increasingly exotic parts of the world in Europe , Asia , Latin America , and Africa , especially after World War II. When LDS Church membership reached a million just after the war’s end, it was still located almost entirely in the western United States ; but by 1970 it was already at three million and much more widely dispersed geographically, especially in both North and South America .

In family life, Mormon polygyny was replaced by a thorough-going neo-Victorian domesticity, with traditional gender roles, large families, and low divorce rates, very much like the family norms that had developed in the U.S. more generally during the first half of the century. Mormons embraced traditional American civic organizations and societies, especially the Boy Scouts of America. The LDS Church responded to the hard economic times of the 1920s and 1930s by establishing its own social services for families and children, its own counterpart to Good Will Industries, and a major economic welfare program that (among other things) raised, canned, and shipped its own food to the needy. All such efforts were very much in line with American pioneer traditions, but also, of course, with the early Utah communitarian ethos. The national media seemed to respond appreciatively to all such assimilation efforts, hailing the “amazing Mormons” in popular magazine articles during the 1940s and 1950s; and Hollywood produced the hagiographic film Brigham Young in 1940, with scarcely a mention of the prophet’s extra wives. Meanwhile, Mormons (especially men) increasingly entered urban occupations and professions leading to upward social and economic mobility, especially after the “G.I. Bill” benefits became available to war veterans. In short, by the middle of the twentieth century, the Latter-day Saints had evolved considerably from their origins as a “sect” toward an assimilated and Americanized “church,” to use the terminology of Weber and Troeltsch.

At that point yet another reversal occurred in Mormon ecclesiastical posture as the LDS Church gradually turned toward a policy of retrenchment in key doctrines and practices after mid-century. During the 1960s, American society had begun to undergo a variety of political, institutional, and cultural changes that made it a very different society by the end of the century, and in general a more permissive one. LDS leaders felt it necessary to resist many of these changes as undermining traditional family life, sexual mores, and social order in the society at large, as well as challenging some of the LDS Church’s own doctrines and moral authority. LDS Church leaders responded to the new national trends increasingly with policies and teachings that constituted a “retrenchment” in the sense that it reversed somewhat the trajectory toward assimilation that the LDS Church had been following since the 1890s. The effect was to move the ecclesiastical culture and discourse of the LDS Church back somewhat in a “sect-like” direction, counter to the conventional expectation of an inevitable evolution from sect to church. While such an evolution and assimilation are typically accompanied by a virtual end to oppositional propaganda from the outside, a thriving anti-Mormon industry has been noteworthy from the beginning (Givens 1997; Fluhman 2012; Mason 2011) and has scarcely abated since.

This retrenchment was expressed in the following ways, among others: (1) increased centralization of geographic and ecclesiastical controls under the priesthood hierarchy; (2) renewed emphasis in discourse and policy on the need to follow the president of the LDS Church as a prophet of God; (3) a renewed and expanded resort to the Book of Mormon, at the expense of the Bible, in LDS Church discourse and instruction; (4) a greatly enhanced proselytizing campaign through the use of its young volunteer missionaries, backed by systematic evaluation research on their effectiveness; (5) a doubling down on policies in support of traditional family values, including discrete gender roles and conservative sexual morality; (6) the expansion and imposition of a daily program of religious instruction for all LDS high school and college students; and (7) an increased emphasis on the unique LDS doctrine about vicarious baptisms and other rituals for the dead through expanded genealogical research and the proliferation of new temples around the world. All of these policies reflected efforts to recover and reemphasize the sense of sectarian strictness, separateness, and pecularity that had been eroding in the process of assimilation (Mauss 1994; White 1987).

This internal focus on retrenchment, however, did not prevent Mormon leaders from simultaneously seeking expanded external involvements, whether in public relations more generally or in specific instances. Some of these external initiatives took the form of outreach or bridge-building with other denominations, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Protestant, in various kinds of civic collaborations, hoping to burnish a bit the public respectability of the LDS Church as a “normal” American denomination. A special effort was made to build bridges with Protestant evangelicals, not so much because of theological similarities (which LDS “retrenchment” actually exaggerated), but because of shared political interests in resisting the popular attacks on traditional family life and sexual morality. More conspicuously, however, during the second half of the twentieth century, the LDS Church began asserting itself politically in American society more frequently and more vigorously than earlier in the century .

During the 1960s and 1970s, for example, despite the march of the national civil rights movement, the LDS Church resisted external and internal pressures to drop its policy of withholding its lay priesthood from African Americans (Bush and Mauss 1984). Also, during 1977, as state delegations to the U.N. International Women’s Year conference in Houston were being created, LDS Church leaders, through their women’s auxiliary (the Relief Society), succeeded in “packing” the Utah delegation with highly conservative women. Both this intervention, and the unsuccessful attempts to keep it surreptitious, were greatly resented by many Utahns, especially non-Mormons. During the late 1970s and 1980s, the LDS Church , both in Utah and in other states, succeeded in preventing the ratification of a national Equal Rights Amendment through political interventions in key states (Bradley 2005). In the 1990s and the early 2000s, the LDS Church intervened in various state contests, but especially in California , to oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage, mobilizing considerable resources, both human and financial, in the process. All such interventions damaged the LDS Church’s public image in some quarters, but they reflected the retrenchment motif in the Mormon teachings and church governance of the period, particularly where family life and gender roles were involved. However, as an exception to its generally conservative political posture during this period, the LDS Church surprised many observers with its public opposition to President Reagan’s plans to place a massive MX missile system in Utah and Nevada .

Whatever the impact of retrenchment on the external LDS public image, however, it was matched internally by increasingly contentious criticisms from Mormon scholars and intellectuals. During the 1950s and 1960s, a new and relatively large generation of college-educated Mormons had come of age, including many who had academic, or at least intellectual, interests in the study oftheir own faith tradition beyond the pro-Mormon apologetics and anti-Mormon diatribes that constituted the polarized standard literature of the time. This new generation gradually became both the producers and the consumers of an avalanche of new organizations, books, and journals devoted to the emerging subdiscipline of “Mormon studies.” The earliest among these was Brigham Young University Studies (also called BYU Studies ), first published in late 1959, but never independent of LDS Church control or influence. Soon others were established under private auspices, independent of the LDS Church. These included the Mormon History Association (eventually with its Journal of Mormon History ); Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought ; and the Sunstone Educational Foundation, which publishes the Sunstone magazine and sponsors periodic conferences or “symposia” in Utah and elsewhere.

At first the reactions of LDS Church leaders to these private initiatives were cautious but permissive. The intellectuals were further encouraged in 1972 by the appointment of Dr. Leonard J. Arrington as official LDS Church Historian,the first academic to hold that post and thus to have charge of the LDS Church’s enormous library and archives. It was during this period, however, that the LDS Church leadership itself was experiencing a turnover in its top leadership, owing to the demise or debilitation of some of its senior members. As it happened, the most powerful apostles who emerged from this transition turned out to be also among the most conservative and the most committed to the retrenchment effort. The first indication of their initiative was the early retirement of historian Arrington and the return of his office into the hands of the ecclesiastical hierarchy (Arrington 1988). This was followed by increasing pressures on intellectuals to desist from criticism of LDS Church policies or leaders and to avoid speaking or writing upon sensitive topics, especially some of the more controversial church policies on civil rights for blacks and women, and certain scandalous episodes from early Mormon history. These pressures began as informal, expressed primarily in periodic pulpit warnings for the general membership. Gradually, however, more formal sanctions from the leaders took the form of restrictions upon the participation of the faculties of BYU and of the Church Education System in the private symposia and publications outside of church control. Eventually, there were some very public excommunications of some prominent intellectuals, especially during the 1990s.

During the entire half century of this increasing retrenchment and strictness (and perhaps partly because of it), the LDS Church membership continued to grow at a rapid pace, both inside and outside North America, and far more from conversions than from natural increase (births). Since the rank-and-file of the membership (especially the converts) depended almost entirely on official publications and statements for their news and information about the LDS Church, they had but little awareness of the historical trend toward retrenchment and less yet of the strain between leaders and intellectuals. They tended to assume that whatever LDS Church policies and teachings were promulgated by the leaders represented the divine will, and members who joined and kept the faith tended to respond well to a somewhat strict religious regimen. The LDS Church and its leaders thus enjoyed the voluntary loyalty and sacrifice of members at the grassroots, whose contributions of time, effort, and money made possible the construction of more than a hundred new temples around the world (edifices for advanced rituals, not for ordinary Sunday worship), substantial growth in genealogical archives and in the missionary corps, and an expansion of social welfare and humanitarian projects that were shared increasingly with the non-Mormon and non-American outside worlds. The Church continued to insist on traditional gender roles and family arrangements through major declarations issued both in the 1980s and the 1990s; but starting in 1978, the leaders did a turn of a 180 degrees in its racial policies, not only dropping its exclusion of black members from the priesthood, but also launching major new missions in black Africa (Mauss 2003).

During the 1990s and early 2000s, still another transition in the LDS leadership brought to the presidency of the LDS Church a series of prophets a little less committed to retrenchment and more concerned with improving the LDS public image through civic engagement and humanitarian service. Starting in 1994, these presidents were Howard W. Hunter, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas S. Monson (the current president at this writing). Under their administrations, both public statements and internal discourse have glossed over some of the more heterodox ideas of the early Mormon prophets in favor of greater emphasis on the fundamentally Christian nature of the LDS religion. The official posture toward gender role definitions and the aspirations of women has softened noticeably. While homosexual behavior is still defined as sinful, the official Church stance has become far more sympathetic toward homosexual feelings and more accepting of civil rights for homosexuals in employment, housing, domestic contracts, and the like (but not yet in marriage). A rapprochment with scholars and intellectuals can also be seen in the greater official approval (and even sponsorship) of their work on controversial subjects (e.g. Walker, Turley, and Leonard 2005), and in the moral (but not financial) support from many leaders for the endowed chairs in Mormon studies that have been established at three different secular universities (Utah State University, Claremont Graduate University, and the University of Virginia). Yet the youthful proselytizing for which Mormons are so well known has not only continued apace but has been augmented by reducing the ages at which young men and women can be called on their missions (Mauss 2011).

Externally too, in its outreach to the rest of the world, the LDS Church has recently shown a greater commitment and capacity in public relations of all kinds. The Public Affairs apparatus of the Church has been very important for decades, but since the 1990s, when a new director was hired, the public relations efforts of the Church have become more proactive, more creative, more professional, and less defensive. In 1998, when the Southern Baptists decided to hold their national convention in Salt Lake City, the LDS Church good naturedly did all it could to welcome its rivals to its home turf, including the Baptists’ proselytizing forays into Salt Lake City neighborhoods during the conference. For the 2002 Winter Olympics, the Church contributed heavily in logistical support of all kinds, including scores of interpreters (mainly youthful former missionaries, who had returned home with language fluency from many foreign countries). On the other hand, the obvious political interventions of the LDS Church in many state political contests over gay marriage between 2000 and 2008, especially in California, resulted in a serious public relations “blow-back,” which created such a heavy burden for public relations that such interventions were not repeated in other state contests after that. Eventually the hostility deriving from the unwelcome Mormon political interventions was mitigated to some extent by the greatly increased humanitarian presence of the LDS Church, its volunteers, and its resources during times of national and international disasters, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and floods.

In fact, many interesting developments in the Mormon experience converged during the first decade of the new century to produce what came to be called “the Mormon moment” in some of the mass media. Some of these were events well outside of Church control, but the official reactions were constructive and creative. The most obvious of these events were the presidential campaigns of prominent Mormon Mitt Romney in 2008 and 2012, in the wake of his successful management of the Winter Olympics, and, in 2012, of Jon Huntsman, Jr., formerly a highly regarded governor of Utah and U.S. ambassador to China . Romney’s 2012 campaign was successful in winning him the Republican nomination but not the subsequent presidential election itself. Yet a recurring issue in all these campaigns was what influence the LDS Church might have in a Romney (or even Huntsman) presidential administration; for Romney had recently been a high-ranking leader in the Mormon lay leadership in Massachusetts, and even Huntsman was the son of such a leader in Utah. The LDS Church, for its part, went to extraordinary measures to demonstrate its political neutrality in these campaigns. This neutrality in the Romney and Huntsman campaigns was echoed also in a new policy of neutrality toward the numerous state contests over same-sex marriage after 2008.

If these few years did constitute a “Mormon Moment,” it was produced largely by the response of the American public to the growing prominence given to Mormons of all kinds in the mass media and in the world of entertainment. The Romney candidacy might have been the starting spark, but that was accompanied and followed by numerous stories about Mormon entertainers and Mormon athletes, whose religious identification loomed as large, in some cases, as their talents and performances. Perhaps the most remarkable development was the creation of a satirical Broadway musical entitled, The Book of Mormon, which played to sold-out houses across the country beginning in 2011. The Mormon public relations apparatus responded not with indignation, as it might have done in earlier times, but by skillfully exploiting, for its own purposes, the wave of public response to the musical. The LDS Church launched a campaign with ads atop New York City taxis, and even a huge neon spread in Times Square, promoting its new “I’m a Mormon” series of engaging video vignettes that demonstrated the variety of lives and styles lived by ordinary Mormons. The LDS Church even bought space in the playbill of the musical itself to advertise the scriptural Book of Mormon, with such declarations as “You’ve seen the play — now read the book!”

Probably because of the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney, national (and even international) interest in the Mormons reached a crescendo during 2012, and so did the interest of the Mormons themselves in how they were being perceived, discussed, and even ridiculed or parodied in the world outside. However, no matter what the varieties in the public image of the Mormons and their religion, or the changes within the LDS Church across time, the membership has always grown, sometimes very rapidly. Various scholars have offered projections of LDS Church growth, sometimes quite extravagant, even amounting to hundreds of millions by the end of the twenty-first century (Stark 2005). Such estimates almost always ignore the relatively high rates of member defections routinely occurring in the LDS Church, usually amounting to at least half of the converts. By the year 2013, the LDS Church claimed a total membership of 14,000,000, more than half of it living outside North America, and at least a third of it in Latin America. Yet fewer than half could be considered active members even in the United States, and perhaps only a fourth elsewhere in the world. Of course, comparative figures for the more traditional denominations are typically far worse (Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life 2012a).

In conclusion: The leadership of the LDS Church (see below) benefits by the commitment of a largely compliant membership: In January of 2012, the Pew Research Center published the results of a survey of a national sample of Mormons containing many interesting comparisons in social, political, and religious beliefs with non-Mormons in the U. S. This and other surveys have shown that Mormons — or at least those who are religiously active — are more knowledgeable than most about the doctrines of their own and other religions, and are relatively strong in their commitment to the LDS doctrines. The Church might be better known for its world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but the real substance of this religion can be seen mainly in the continuing responsiveness of grassroots Mormons to the expectations of their leaders. For in donating both their time and their money, it is the devoted membership that has made possible the churches, temples, a major private university system, a continuous supply of young missionaries, and the delivery of many tons of emergency supplies and equipment to disaster sites around the world. Many have questioned the Christian authenticity of some of the Church’s traditional teachings, but its Christian intentions and motivations would seem to be well established; for “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20) (See Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life 2012b).


In 1842, two years before his death, Joseph Smith Jr. outlined some of the basic beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a letter to a newspaper editor. These thirteen points, now referred to as the Articles of Faith and often memorized by Mormon children, are a concise elaboration of some of the core doctrines of Mormonism. The Articles of Faith do not operate as a Mormon creed, nor do they constitute a complete inventory of doctrines and beliefs; indeed, Smith would continue to introduce new doctrines until shortly before his death. Nevertheless, they provide a helpful framework to discuss the central doctrinal components of the Mormon worldview.

1. We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

All of Mormon scripture, teaching, and devotional life is centered on the worship of the God of the Christian Bible (Old and New Testament). Mormons frequently refer to God as “Heavenly Father,” “Father in Heaven,” or simply “Father,” following the pattern established by Jesus in the Gospels. The fatherhood of God is not metaphoric for Mormons as they believe that God is the actual father of their eternal spirits, which reside in (and animate) the physical bodies that are the offspring of earthly parents. Indeed, the most popular LDS children’s song, often sung by adults as well, is called “I Am a Child of God.” While God is considered omniscient and omnipotent, his fatherhood also lends him a unique approachability as most Mormons do not resonate with portrayals of a stern, unfeeling, or distant deity. The primary characteristic of God is his love for his children, and his entire existence is oriented toward their eternal salvation and happiness. “For behold,” God tells Moses in a revelation recorded by Joseph Smith, “this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

While Mormons share a similar language of God with Christians and Jews (and to a large extent Muslims), perhaps the single greatest doctrinal distinction between Mormonism and the other Abrahamic faiths is the doctrine of God taught by Joseph Smith in the final months of his life. Smith insisted that God and humanity were essentially made of the same species, that humans are not creatures fashioned by God but rather children parented by him. Taking literally certain biblical verses, Smith elaborated a doctrine of radical theosis that later found expression in a couplet: “As man now is, God once was; as God is now, man may be.” This teaching, considered blasphemous by other committed monotheists, is at the heart of Mormonism’s profoundly optimistic orientation toward creation, humanity, and the cosmos. The ultimate goal for Mormons is therefore not merely salvation, or living with God, but exaltation, that is, becoming gods themselves. Joseph Smith was killed before he could spell out some of the specific ramifications of this teaching, and many Mormons have downplayed the radical nature of this doctrine of theosis when speaking to members of other faiths or the media. Nevertheless, it remains a vital doctrine cherished as part of the distinctive prophetic legacy of Joseph Smith.

In addition to a Heavenly Father, Mormons affirm the existence of a Heavenly Mother (or Mother in
Heaven) who is the wife of Heavenly Father and mother of human spirits. She does not formally appear in any canonized LDS scripture, but has frequently been mentioned in LDS sermons and verse, most famously in an oft-sung hymn (somewhat ironically titled “O My Father”). Many leaders of the church have cautioned against undue speculation about the Mother, and have explicitly taught that members should not pray to her; indeed, some Mormon feminists were excommunicated in the early 1990s for advocating too strongly and publicly a more robust role for the Mother in LDS worship and discourse. In recent years there has been something of a resurgence of discussion about Heavenly Mother, led by a small but growing movement of Mormon feminists and feminist theologians. Theosis applies to women as well as to men, and recent statements by church leaders have affirmed the eternality of gender. Mormonism thus offers resources regarding the divine feminine that, although somewhat controversial and speculative, exceed those of most other Western religions.

Mormons emphatically believe in and worship Jesus Christ. Much ink has been spilled over the question, “Are Mormons Christian?” The answer is relatively straightforward, if not easily reducible to a soundbite, and depends on one’s definition of what a “Christian” is. If a Christian is denoted as someone who subscribes to New Testament teaching that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, Savior and Redeemer of the world who atoned for the sins of all humanity, was resurrected on the third day after his crucifixion, and is the Messiah who will return to earth again in his Second Coming, then Mormons rank among the most devoted of Christians, a fact that they repeatedly and vocally insist upon, especially in recent years. If, however, a Christian is defined by belonging to a historic tradition that takes the Nicene and other creeds of the fourth and fifth centuries as normative and to at least some degree binding, then Mormons do not fit that definition. The problem may be solved most easily by referencing the LDS Church’s official name: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In other words, Mormons are devoted and sincere followers of Jesus Christ, but they believe that the Christian church fell into apostasy shortly after the death of the apostles, thereby necessitating a restoration of “true” Christianity, of which they are the standard bearers in these the last days.

In fact, it is impossible to avoid Jesus Christ in contemporary Mormonism. Partly this is a result of a renewed emphasis since the 1980s on the Book of Mormon, which is in fact a deeply Christian text. (Many evangelical Christian theologians have astutely noted that the actual substance of the book is fairly unobjectionable, cleaving as it does to biblical Christian doctrine.) Mormon art, music, and sermons are all highly Christocentric. Mormons talk about feeling the love of Jesus, and the principal doctrinal touchstone for LDS curriculum is the atonement of Jesus Christ. Commonly quoted in recent years is Joseph Smith’s statement, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”

The third member of the divine triumvirate, known by Mormons as the “Godhead” (not Trinity), is the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit. Mormons teach that both God the Father and Jesus Christ possess corporeal bodies of flesh and bone, but that the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit. The Holy Ghost is the messenger of God who communicates divine truth and comfort to humans. While Mormons allow for visions – most notably Joseph Smith’s visions of God, Jesus, and various angels – for the most part the pattern is that Mormons pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ, and answers to prayers come via the Holy Spirit, whose influence is felt in both the heart and the mind. Technically Mormons worship the Holy Spirit as a member of the Godhead, but the language and rituals of worship are typically oriented more toward Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

2. We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.

One of the central doctrines of Mormonism is agency, often referred to as “moral agency” or “free agency.” Mormons reject the notion of original sin in which the moral stain of the fall of Adam and Eve is imputed to all humanity from the moment of their conception or birth. All children come into this world sinless, and remain pure in the eyes of God until the “age of accountability” (eight years old). However, the sad fact is that all humans do in fact sin, meaning that they, of their own free will, separate themselves from the perfect character of God. The one exception in history was Jesus, who lived a perfectly righteous life. Although human behavior is constrained and influenced by a multitude of factors (biological, psychological, environmental, social, and cultural) humans (excepting young children and the mentally impaired) are accountable for their own actions. God respects and upholds human agency, and does not force anyone to heaven or hell.

3. We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

Because all humans sin, they are excluded from the presence of a perfect God. Before the world was created, God anticipated this development and implemented what Mormons refer to as the “Plan of Salvation,” namely, that Jesus would be sent to earth and would atone for the sins of the world. Through his vicarious suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, Jesus repairs the relationship between God and humanity, taking upon himself and making amends for the totality of human sin and sorrow. Mormons have typically subscribed to a substitutionary view of atonement, but other interpretations are allowable.

On the question of who is saved, Mormon doctrine comes very close to universalism. God’s love is extended to all of his children, and thus it is theoretically possible for all people to accept Christ’s atonement and thus be cleansed of their sins and readmitted into the presence of God. In one of his most important revelations, Joseph Smith saw a multi-tiered division of heaven, thus expanding upon the traditional heaven-hell dichotomy. Employing the analogy of the brightness and glory of the sun, the moon, and the stars, the revelation taught that the most righteous people who accept Christ, obey his commandments, and receive necessary priesthood ordinances find their place in the “celestial kingdom,” which is where God and Jesus reside. Good and honorable people who do not accept the full message of Jesus are assigned to the “terrestrial kingdom,” while the wicked (including murderers, adulterers, and blasphemers) still receive a “degree of glory” in the “telestial kingdom.” Only Satan and his followers are excluded from God’s light and love, as they are relegated to “outer darkness.” A 1918 revelation to Joseph F. Smith (nephew of Joseph Smith and sixth president of the Church) showed that humans are given additional chances even after their death to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and thus to inherit a higher glory than they may have merited with their life on earth. Mormons find support for this concept in the New Testament (I Peter 3:18 -20 and 4:6).

4 . We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Although salvation and exaltation are available to all, Mormons believe, there are conditions that must be met to receive the full complement of divine blessings and eternal glory. The most important principle is faith in Jesus Christ, whose atonement is the only vehicle by which humans are cleansed of sin. Belief in the divinity and atonement of Jesus inspires one to want to abandon sin and purify one’s life. Sincere repentance will include an abandonment of sinful behavior (including thoughts, words, and deeds), restitution for any wrongs done, and a commitment to righteous living in the future. Human fallibility dictates that one’s renewed pursuit of godly living will be short-lived, so repentance is a constant, even daily, process of self-scrutiny, rededication, and asking of forgiveness from God and any wronged parties.

A commitment to Jesus Christ and his church finds formal expression in Mormonism through the ordinance of baptism, which is followed in turn by confirmation as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that is, by the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. (More on these ordinances below, in “Rituals.”) Though the renewal of faith and repentance is a constant, lifelong process, baptism and confirmation are typically performed only once in a person’s life. When teaching these “first principles and ordinances,” Mormons often add a fifth, “enduring to the end,” which connotes a life of godly striving and an enduring commitment to “keep the commandments.”

5. We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.

Mormonism is a sacramental religion in which the rites (or “ordinances”) of the Church are administered by an ordained priesthood, which is available to all men ages twelve and older. Mormons believe they are following the pattern established by Jesus, who ordained his twelve disciplines and other followers and then sent them out to do his work. However, this authority, or “priesthood,” was lost after the apostles were killed and, according to Mormons, did not pass on to new generations of believers, who maintained the church but without divinely authorized priesthood authority. Ordinances such as baptism must be performed by a properly ordained priesthood holder; if performed by any other person, no matter how sincere, the ordinance is invalid in the eyes of God. Because the priesthood was lost to the earth, a divine restoration was necessary. Joseph Smith and a select group of early disciples reported that they were visited by the angelic persons of New Testament prophet John the Baptist and apostles Peter, James, and John, who laid hands on the heads of Smith and his associates and conferred on them the long-lost priesthood authority.

According to this highly sacramental view of history and ecclesiology, priesthood was necessary for the restoration of Christ’s church and the authorized performance of necessary ordinances such as baptism. Today, all LDS priesthood holders can demonstrate how they trace their own personal “line of authority” back to Joseph Smith and his associates, and by extension back to the apostles and Jesus Christ himself. Everyone called to serve in various official Church capacities, from the highest echelons of Church leadership to the pianist for children’s singing time in a local ward, are “set apart” by the laying on of hands of priesthood holders.

6. We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.

Mormonism is a Restorationist church. As indicated above, Mormons believe that Jesus established a church before his death, but that the early (or “Primitive”) church fell into apostasy. Centuries passed in which Christianity survived but without proper priesthood authority and with increasingly corrupted doctrines. Reforming the church was not sufficient, as authority was absent and certain truths were lost entirely. Mormons believe, therefore, that Joseph Smith technically did not start a new church, but rather restored Christ’s ancient church. Although the emerging Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints based its organization primarily on an unfolding set of revelations to Smith, rather than on a careful reading and application of the New Testament (as was the case with other Restorationist groups such as the Campbellites), the basic organization of the LDS Church does include, at least superficially, most of the same offices and titles referred to in the New Testament.

In contrast to the findings of modern biblical scholarship, Mormons typically believe that first-century Christians were all part of a unified, hierarchical church led by apostles and prophets, with Peter at the head. The twelve apostles ordained by Jesus (minus Judas and plus Matthias and eventually Paul) presided over the entire church, with various levels of priesthood hierarchy under them in each of the local churches. Individuals were ordained to discrete offices (pastor, teacher, evangelist, etc.) by their priesthood leaders. In fact, Mormonism’s interpretation of early Christian ecclesiology tells us more about modern Mormonism than about early Christianity, but the parallels in history and institutional organization have traditionally been an important part of apologetic Mormon arguments for the authenticity and divine mission of the restored Church.

7. We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.

Early Mormons experienced an impressive and cacophonous range of spiritual gifts that are typically associated more with modern Pentecostalism. Early converts to Mormonism believed that the presence and exercise of such gifts was a sign that God had opened the heavens and restored his apostolic church on the earth again, complete with the same miraculous power that attended the early Christians in the Acts of the Apostles. On one level Joseph Smith encouraged such gifts, as he too saw them as signs of the power of God made manifest through his restored church. However, almost immediately Smith also implemented constraints on the use of certain gifts. For instance, in response to some early disciples who claimed that they too were receiving revelations from God for the Church, Smith dictated a revelation unequivocally stating that only the president and prophet of the Church would speak for God to the whole Church. Smith similarly sought to limit what he saw as excesses in the display of some of the gifts. While the prevalence of spiritual gifts was the primary attraction for many early converts, they also drew biting criticism from early opponents of Mormonism. Brigham Young, an early speaker in tongues and participant in ritual healings, eventually also worked to quell the ecstatic display of gifts.

Today, Mormons insist that spiritual gifts are real and that God continues to work in the world in miraculous ways. For the most part, however, the early enthusiasm of the Saints has been domesticated. The gift of tongues, for instance, is now typically thought of as enabling missionaries who have been called to serve in foreign lands to better learn the native language. Priesthood holders anoint with oil and administer to the sick by the laying on of hands (more below in “Rituals”), but Mormons also rely on modern medicine as much or more than on the miraculous power of God. Mormon worship services are the very opposite of ecstatic. Speakers will often become emotional and cry while sharing personal experiences or testimony, but anything more demonstrative would not be culturally tolerated in today’s church.

Revelations and visions are available to all faithful members of the church (indeed, God can speak to any of his children in these ways), but the scope of the messages received in such communications must be limited to the individual’s appropriate sphere of responsibility. Thus, parents can receive revelation for the care of their children but not someone else’s; a Sunday School instructor can receive revelation for what message to teach in class but not how the members of the class should live their lives; a bishop can receive revelation for directing the affairs of his ward and even for individuals who are in counseling with him, but he has no authority over anyone outside his ward boundaries. Only the General Authorities, and especially the President of the Church and his two counselors and fellow apostles, can receive revelation for the entire Church, and even then the revelation will only be announced when accepted unanimously by the other General Authorities (see “Organization/Leadership,” below).

8. We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

Mormons accept four books of scripture (sometimes called the “Standard Works”) as the revealed and authoritative word of God: the Bible (Old and New Testaments), Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. The very fact that Mormons accept additional books of scripture beyond the Bible places them well outside the mainstream of Christianity. Although not affirming its inerrancy, Mormons hold a fairly “high” view of scripture, meaning that they generally accept its historicity and regard its messages as actual communications revealed from God through his chosen prophets. Some members will privately question the literalness of certain passages and narratives (Noah’s ark and flood, for instance), but especially in public discourse Mormons typically take scriptural accounts and claims at face value.

The LDS Church has adopted the King James Version as its official English-language Bible. In some ways this is ironic because both the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith clearly taught that the King James Version was incomplete and corrupted, thus necessitating not only the restoration of certain doctrines through prophecy and additional scripture, but also in a revision of the biblical text itself. Throughout his life Smith worked on what he called a new “translation” of the Bible, which was actually an inspired revision. He left many chapters and even books intact, while making extensive changes and even additions to others, most notably Genesis. (Smith’s “translation” of the first seven chapters of Genesis appears as the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, and lesser changes are incorporated into the footnotes and appendix of the modern LDS edition of the Bible.) In spite of all of this, Mormons have always considered the Bible as a faithful record of God’s dealings with his children in the ancient Near East, and incorporate it into their sermons, curriculum, and devotional life. Recent scholarly surveys have shown Mormons to be among the most biblically literate of any segment of the American population, excelling even evangelical Christians in some measures.

The Book of Mormon, like the Bible, is an ancient record narrating God’s interactions with the House of Israel, although it takes place primarily in the New World (almost universally believed to be the Americas, though other theories have occasionally been advanced). Because the Book of Mormon came directly from Joseph Smith’s inspired translation of the gold plates, contemporary Mormons are confident in its status as the word of God, although they do recognize that it is a translated document of a record originally produced by human prophets, thus falling short of Muslims’ view of the language of the Qur’an. Interestingly, for much of the early history of the LDS Church, members may have read the Book of Mormon but rarely referenced it in sermons; the Bible, and to a lesser degree Smith’s other revelations, far exceeded the Book of Mormon in actual significance as a source for doctrine. This changed dramatically in the late twentieth century, especially during the presidency of Ezra Taft Benson, who emphasized that the Book of Mormon was the “keystone of our religion” (a phrase adopted from Joseph Smith). Ever since then, the Book of Mormon has enjoyed a privileged status, something as LDS scripture’s “first among equals.” (For more about the narrative structure of the Book of Mormon, see “Founder/Group History,” above.)

The Doctrine and Covenants, unlike the Bible and Book of Mormon, is a self-consciously modern production. It is a collection of recorded revelations to the church’s prophets, with the vast majority of the revelations coming from Joseph Smith. More than any other book, the Doctrine and Covenants underscores the open and evolving nature of Mormonism, as one can trace the developing doctrinal and ecclesiastical framework of the church through an analysis of its roughly chronologically arranged revelations (divided into “sections” rather than chapters). The Doctrine and Covenants is an open book and can be amended when the church receives new revelation. Additions have been rare in recent decades, however, with only five new revelations announced since the death of Joseph Smith in 1844, and only one since 1918. (Incidentally, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now the Community of Christ, has added new revelations to its Doctrine and Covenants at a much more consistent pace than has the LDS Church.) While the theology of the Book of Mormon has little that would set it apart from evangelical Protestantism, the Doctrine and Covenants, especially in its later sections, begins to unfold some of Mormonism’s more distinctive doctrines.

The Pearl of Great Price is an eclectic collection of sacred texts, something of a potpourri of revelation, both ancient and modern. It includes five parts: the Book of Moses (Joseph Smith’s translation of the first seven chapters of Genesis, with an additional “Vision of Moses” not included in the Bible); the Book of Abraham (an inspired “translation” of Egyptian papyri purchased by Joseph Smith in 1835 that he claimed contained some hitherto-unknown writings of the ancient patriarch Abraham); Joseph Smith-Matthew (Smith’s translation of Matthew chapter 24 from the New Testament); Joseph Smith-History (an excerpt from Smith’s official history of the church, dictated in 1838 and containing an account of his earliest visions); and the Articles of Faith. Though the briefest of the Standard Works, at only 61 pages, the Pearl of Great Price contains some of the most important and most frequently cited passages of distinctive Mormon scripture, with particular insights into Mormon cosmology and identity.

9. We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

One of Joseph Smith’s core declarations was that the heavens are open and God speaks in modern times just as he did to ancient prophets and believers. Although Mormons believe that the essential truths of the gospel have been revealed to modern prophets, they readily acknowledge that God has much more to teach humans and will do so at his pleasure. The top leadership of the Church, consisting of fifteen men known as the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles, are all considered “prophets, seers, and revelators,” with a special commission to bear witness of Jesus Christ and direct his church by revelation. Only they may receive revelations that are binding for the entire Church.

Personal revelation is a cornerstone of Mormon devotional life, and may be sought for direction in all kinds of matters including spiritual knowledge and comfort, family planning and parenting, interpersonal relationships, and even the “secular” workplace. Such revelation typically comes quietly and is “felt” in a person’s heart and mind. Most revelations received on a day-to-day basis, whether by the Church’s apostles or ordinary members, concern relatively mundane matters, though they may seem momentous to the person at the time. Though members will often share spiritual experiences with one another, they will also guard particularly precious moments of inspiration as sacred and private.

10. We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.

Mormons are millennialists, believing in an eschaton in which Jesus Christ will return to earth in a glorious Second Coming that will be followed by a thousand-year reign of peace and righteousness. Christ will appear, according to the Book of Mormon, both in the “old” Jerusalem (in Palestine ) and a “New Jerusalem” that will be built on the American continent; Joseph Smith revealed the site of this New Jerusalem to be Jackson County, Missouri. Millennialist teaching and speculation figured much more prominently in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century LDS Church than it does today.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints considers part of its core mission to be preparing the earth for Christ’s return. This preparation is accomplished principally through evangelizing those who have not yet heard the gospel; this explains the massive missionary effort maintained by the LDS Church since its early days. Joseph Smith taught that God’s ancient covenants with the House of Israel remain intact but are primarily mediated now through the restored Church of Jesus Christ . Biblical prophecies about the gathering of the lost tribes of Israel are fulfilled, in the Mormon worldview, by bringing people into the Church. All baptized members can receive a personalized inspired pronouncement called a “patriarchal blessing” in which they are told that they are members of one of the twelve tribes of Israel . Jews are honored as a remnant of the tribe of Judah , and Mormons feel a special kinship to their Israelite “cousins,” though the feeling is rarely mutual.

11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

Strongly conditioned by their own experience of persecution, especially in Missouri and Illinois in the 1830s and 1840s, as well as by their doctrine of the inviolable agency of each human soul, Mormons have been fierce defenders of religious freedom. For most of the nineteenth century this took the form of self-pleading, but Mormons also made substantial gestures of religious liberality toward other groups. In recent years Mormon legislators have been among the chief architects and proponents of federal statutes that make the extension and preservation of religious liberty an official plank of U.S. foreign policy. This commitment to religious freedom does not impinge on the church’s missionary zeal; to the contrary, it fuels it, as Mormons have always been confident that their ideas will prevail in a free marketplace of religious ideas.

12. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

Mormons typically make excellent citizens in whatever country they reside. This comes not only from the value they place on clean living, thrift, and neighborliness, but also from their healthy respect for government and governments. In its most robust form this includes a belief, supported by an early revelation to Joseph Smith, that the Constitution of the United States was written in part with the inspiration of God and thus entails divine principles. According to LDS scripture, the ideal government is democratic in nature, accountable to its own people and committed to the guarantee of freedom and basic rights (including religious liberty), but the actual form of government matters less than the principles undergirding it. Yet Latter-day Saints are encouraged to be good citizens even in non-democratic states.

As with other believers, there is occasionally tension between allegiance to the kingdom of God and to a secular nation-state. This was most pronounced during the nineteenth-century conflict over the Latter-day Saints’ insistence on the right to practice plural marriage. Since that crisis was resolved (by making the law of God conform to the law of the land), Latter-day Saints have rarely engaged in civil disobedience or conscientious objection. Especially since the late nineteenth century, Mormons have shown their patriotism by participation in the armed forces of whatever nation they live in. The LDS Church proselytizes and maintains an official presence only in countries that have granted it legal standing.

13. We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul. We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

Mormons put a priority on the ethical life. Often criticized by evangelical Protestants for being works-centric or trying to “earn their way into heaven,” in many ways Mormons believe that the quality of one’s devotion is demonstrated more by everyday actions than by dramatic professions of faith.

The life of an active Latter-day Saint will be shaped by the rhythms, patterns, and moral values and teachings of the religion. Observant Mormons tithe a full ten percent of their income to the church, as well as additional money dedicated to the poor (known as “fast offerings”). They adhere to the “law of chastity,” meaning that they engage in no premarital or extramarital sexual relations (and confine sex only to monogamous heterosexual marriages). They pray both verbally and silently as many as several times a day (there is no prescribed number), and fast for twenty-four hours once a month (usually skipping breakfast and lunch on the first Sunday of the month) as part of the fast offering. They obey the “Word of Wisdom,” the church’s health code originally revealed to Joseph Smith, which urges complete abstention from alcohol, tobacco, and “hot drinks” (interpreted as coffee and tea; caffeinated soft drinks are acceptable). Mormons are committed to nurturing loving, healthy relationships with their families, and to dealing honestly with everyone they encounter. They give charity to the poor and donate to humanitarian relief efforts (usually through the Church). They attend church weekly, for three hours on a Sunday and often extra meetings during the week. Mormons perform community service and are often active in local politics and community organizations such as the Boy Scouts and PTA. They are encouraged to do devotional scriptural reading daily, both as individuals and in families. Of course Mormons are ordinary human beings with all the natural foibles of the species, but great emphasis is put on the moral life, and cultural capital within the community is best achieved by quiet and consistent devotion to godly living.

In short, being Mormon means subscribing to a certain core set of beliefs: faith in God the Father and Jesus Christ; a belief that Joseph Smith was a true prophet; that the Book of Mormon is true scripture; that Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s true church; and that God continues to lead the Church through living prophets and apostles. But in addition to these essential beliefs, being Mormon means living a certain way, disciplining one’s behavior to a set of values and standards established by the Church. In the day-to-day life of the Church and its members, orthopraxis matters as much (and perhaps more) than orthodoxy.


Mormon worship services, held on Sundays in chapels around the world, are decidedly non-liturgical. Typically three hours long, the LDS Sunday “block” of meetings includes “sacrament meeting,” which all members of the family attend together and where the sacrament (known in other churches as the Lord’s Supper or communion) is blessed and served to the congregation; Sunday School, divided into classes by age; and then additional classes subdivided by sex but generally similar in curriculum. LDS Sunday services resemble traditional Protestant worship. The main distinction is that at every point, Mormon worship emphasizes congregational participation. There is no professional clergy at the local level, and so lay members provide all of the sermons, music, class instruction, and so forth.

LDS worship is non-charismatic. Music is devotional and subdued; hymns are sung by the congregation accompanied usually only by an organ. Sermons (referred to simply as “talks”) are given by lay members (men and women, adults and teenagers) untrained in homiletics, so the quality of substance and delivery varies widely. Except for the blessing on the sacramental bread and water, prayers are unscripted, though they always address God the Father and close in the name of Jesus Christ. Once a month, usually on the first Sunday, in “fast and testimony meeting,” the podium is open for anyone (including small children) to share personal testimonies and faith-promoting experiences.

Most of the ritual life of Mormonism is mediated through ordinances (similar to rites or sacraments) conducted by duly authorized priesthood holders. The LDS Church does not formally recognize rites and ordinances conducted by priests and ministers from other churches. Priesthood ordinances are divided into those considered essential for salvation or exaltation, and those that bless lives but are not required. Most ordinances can be performed only by holders of the higher priesthood, known as the Melchizedek Priesthood, typically conferred on a man at age eighteen or nineteen. Some ordinances, most notably the blessing and passing of the sacrament, can be conducted by holders of the lesser, or Aaronic Priesthood, which is conferred on boys when they are twelve (as well as on new adult converts as they prepare for the higher priesthood). The Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods are both bestowed only on males who profess belief in the basic doctrines of the church and who conform their lives to basic church behavioral standards. There are, however, no other prerequisites in terms of theological or other forms of training.

The essential ordinances include baptism by immersion, confirmation and bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost, priesthood ordination (for men only), and the ordinances of the temple, specifically the “initiatory,” the “endowment,” and “sealing” (eternal marriage). Baptism is considered the gateway to the church and kingdom of God , and is considered essential for admission into the highest degree of heaven, or celestial kingdom. Mormons practice baptism only by full bodily immersion, and believe that it grants complete (if temporary) remission of sins. Baptism is immediately followed, usually on the same or following day, by confirmation, which is performed by “the laying on of hands,” meaning simply that a group of priesthood holders stand around a seated individual and lay their hands on his or her head while one is voice for the group in pronouncing the blessing. Confirmation officially makes a person a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As part of the confirmation ordinance, the gift of the Holy Ghost is bestowed upon individuals, with a promise that they can have the constant guidance of the Holy Spirit so long as they conform to standards of righteous living. The promises, or covenants, made by persons at the time of baptism and confirmation are renewed weekly when they partake of the sacrament.

The most distinctive and ceremonial aspects of Mormon worship are found in temples. As of early 2013, there were 140 operating LDS temples worldwide, with another fourteen under construction and an additional fourteen announced. These temples are not open for regular Sunday worship services, but are dedicated instead to the performance of the religion’s most sacred ordinances that most robustly fulfill Joseph Smith’s vision of uniting heaven and earth and preparing humans for their ultimate destiny to become like God. Only members of the LDS Church who have passed a series of interviews with priesthood leaders and have affirmed their adherence to core LDS Church beliefs and behavioral codes are allowed to enter the temples. (Temples typically host “open houses” for the general public when first constructed, prior to their dedication.) Temple ordinances and covenants are the most sacred elements of Mormonism and are not discussed in detail outside the temple, even among members themselves. There is no greater sacrilege in Mormonism than to divulge the details of the temple ceremonies, and Mormons ask outsiders to respect what they hold so sacred.

We can, however, outline the basic contours of the experience. There are three principal sets of ordinances performed for members of the church in temples. The first is called the “initiatory,” and is patterned on rites conducted in the Old Testament in which Levite priests were washed with water and anointed with consecrated oil to set them apart for their sacred calling. The second is called the “endowment,” in which men and women are taught their place in the grand cosmic drama that began before the creation of the world and that culminates in the final judgment and their inheritance of the blessings and glories of God’s kingdom. The ceremony features a dramatic performance, now typically portrayed via a video recording, in which participants learn more about their relationship to God the Father and Jesus Christ. Participants make a series of covenants, including obedience and chastity, that will guide them in living a godly life.

The third ordinance is called “sealing,” which constitutes the eternal binding of a husband and wife and their children. In the sealing ordinance, couples are promised that if they are faithful to their covenants, they will be united not just until death but for “time and all eternity.” Any children subsequently born to the couple will be sealed to them for eternity. Children born to a couple before their sealing (usually in the case of adult converts) are sealed to their parents in what is considered by many to be the most touching ritual offered by the church. In nations such as the United States where the LDS Church is granted authority to marry, the sealing constitutes both the sacred and the civil marriage of a man and a woman. In countries where a non-ecclesiastical civil marriage is required, couples go to the magistrate first and then enter the temple for the sealing. The belief that families can be sealed together from generation to generation is one of the most compelling doctrines of the church; “Families are Forever” has become something of a motto for many members.

The grand hope and design of Mormonism is to unite all of God’s children in one extended chain, and thus to enable all of humanity to return to God in the celestial kingdom as an exalted and ritually sealed family. Therefore, in the temples Mormons also perform vicarious baptisms and other ordinances on behalf of the dead. (Mormons find biblical support for such baptisms for the dead in I Cor. 15:29). This is consistent with their belief that God is both perfectly just and merciful. If he requires certain ordinances for exaltation (baptism, confirmation, and the ordinances of the temple), then justice requires that the opportunity to receive such ordinances be available also to those who have lived and died without that opportunity. The LDS Church thus sponsors a massive genealogical effort to identify the names and basic life information of the deceased from around the world. Faithful Mormons can then perform ordinances (including baptism, confirmation, priesthood ordination, the initiatory, endowment, and sealings) on behalf of those deceased individuals in any of the church’s temples. When the ordinances for a deceased person have thus been completed vicariously, that person, as a post-mortal spirit, retains his or her agency either to accept or to reject them. In recent years the practice of baptism for the dead has attracted some controversy, particularly when some Jewish groups discovered that Mormons had been performing baptisms on behalf of Holocaust victims. The LDS Church has apologized and suspended the practice, but only for that particular category.

In addition to these required ordinances, Mormons also perform other ordinances that are considered vehicles of divine power and grace but which are not essential for a person’s path to salvation. These include the blessing of babies (usually when one to three months old); blessings offered by the laying on of hands and given at a person’s request for guidance, comfort, or physical healing (the latter accompanied by anointing with consecrated oil); patriarchal blessings that declare a person’s Israelite lineage (see tenth Article of Faith, above) and typically offer specific guidance for the person’s life; the dedication of homes and graves; and the setting apart of members who have been called to serve in various positions within the Church. These blessings are available to all members, male and female, though performed only by men who are ordained to the priesthood. In the nineteenth and the early twentieth century women commonly performed certain ritual blessings, particularly for healing, but that practice was eventually discouraged and then suspended by the mid-twentieth century.


The priesthood leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from the local to the general level, is made up of relatively well-educated men of the world who have demonstrated extensive devotion to their religion through years of service in the lay ministry. They serve without pay except for about a hundred of the topmost leaders (apostolic and sub-apostolic echelons). They have a strong fiduciary commitment to the Saints whom they serve, but they have no formal training in theology, ecclesiology, or homiletics as do the clergy of the more traditional religious communities. The leadership has become increasingly diverse and cosmopolitan in recent decades, with a German national in the top triumvirate called the First Presidency, and many other top leaders from Latin America, Asia, and Africa serving in the quorums of the Seventy (just below the apostles). Women do not hold the priesthood, but the women’s auxiliaries, serving under the priesthood, are also led by conscientious but mostly unsalaried women.

Mormon women are, in fact, of at least equal importance operationally in the lay ministry, even though they don’t hold the priesthood and therefore don’t have ultimate decision-making authority in the Church (Scott and Thatcher 2005). Women constitute both the leadership and the membership of the major LDS auxiliaries from the general level down to the local ward level. These auxiliaries consist mainly of the Relief Society, the Young Women’s program (for teenaged girls), and the Primary (for children between three and twelve). The Relief Society has special historical significance. It was organized in 1842 under Joseph Smith’s wife, Emma, mainly on the initiative of the Mormon women themselves. At first it was readily embraced by Smith as a vehicle for women’s sisterly solidarity and organized charity, but he later suspended its operation as it began to resist some of his innovations, especially plural marriage.

During and after the removal of the Mormons from the Midwest to Utah, the women continued ministering under their own auspices, and the Relief Society was eventually (1868) reconstituted in Utah under Brigham Young and a new female leadership with considerable independence. For a century thereafter, it became extraordinarily important in the Mormon organizational structure as a defender of the Church on the national scene (including, ironically, polygamy until 1890); as the main agency for charity and social services in the Church; and as the source of publications for Mormon women (Derr, Beecher, and Cannon, 1992). It is still the major women’s auxiliary, but since the 1970s, the “correlation” process has reduced the scope of its operations and brought it more directly and fully under priesthood control. (See “Timeline” above).

In general, the Church is organized geographically such that the smallest unit of organization is called a “ward” (similar to a parish in other denominations), though some units too small to be wards are called “branches.” The governing pastor of a ward is a “bishop” (or a “branch president” in the smaller units). At this writing, there are about 30,000 wards in the Church, and these are organized into some 3,000 “stakes.” The latter term evokes the Tabernacle of Moses, imagined as a large tent held down by stakes around its circumference, with a large center stake in the middle. An LDS stake is, in effect, a small diocese containing between five and fifteen wards, depending on the distribution and participation level of the membership in a given location. In most of the world, proselytizing units called “missions” are superimposed upon fairly large areas that might include some stakes but are led by a “mission president” over two or three hundred full-time missionaries. The missionaries serve both in the stakes (if there are any) and in the populated areas between stakes, primarily in proselytizing duties, but also in many civic and humanitarian activities. The head of each of these echelons of leadership is actually a triumvirate, rather than a single leader. Thus a ward bishop has two counselors (assistants) and the three of them constitute a “bishopric.” Each president at any level also has two counselors, all constituting a “presidency,” etc.

At the general level of leadership, the president of the entire Church and his two counselors constitute the “First Presidency.” Serving with and under this presidency is the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, a self-perpetuating body that functions a lot like a board of directors in other corporations. These leaders serve for life. As an executive body, the First Presidency oversees the Church on a day-to-day basis, but for all practical purposes this presidency and the Twelve act together in any significant decisions. Furthermore, the future of the Church lies ultimately in the hands of the Twelve, for when any Church president dies, his entire presidency is dissolved, and power then devolves upon the Twelve to select and ordain the new president/prophet. Note the parallel here to the Roman Catholic Papacy in its relation to the College of Cardinals, though succession in the Mormon case is a much more predictable and less elaborate process: Typically the longest serving apostle is next in line for the office of Church president.

Under the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, the hierarchy consists of eight quorums of the Seventy, each of which, at full strength, would have seventy members (but hardly ever do). The first two of these quorums are (like the apostles and First Presidency) considered “general authorities.” Seventies, however, do not serve for life but only until age seventy, when they are given “emeritus” status. (Those in the second quorum, in fact, might serve only about five years, depending on a variety of organizational needs and circumstances). Those in the first two quorums serve on a full-time basis and are often assigned to the presidencies of one of the twenty two formal “Areas” of the Church, each containing many stakes and missions. Those leaders occupying the remaining quorums of the Seventy (third through eighth) are considered “area authorities” with supervisory duties limited in both time and geography to fairly specific locales containing stakes and missions. These Area Seventies have terms of service that might vary from five to even ten years, during which time they remain fully employed in their usual occupations and serve in the Church part-time without salaries. The only other full-time leaders in the priesthood hierarchy are the Presiding Bishopric, whose main responsibilities involve the “temporal affairs” of the Church. This entire priesthood hierarchy is served by a large, full-time and salaried bureaucracy functioning something like the “civil service” in the world outside the Church (“General Authorities” 2012).

Especially at the local level s, the LDS Church has always had a lay priesthood. Even as the hierarchy has become larger and more elaborate with the growth of the Church, only relatively few priesthood leaders at the very top devote full time to church service and receive any compensation (which Mormons prefer to think of “living allowances” rather than as “salaries,” since they are not large compared to corporate standards in the world). At the local levels of the stake and the ward, the Church organizational scheme provides scores of different roles (considered “callings”) for lay members to occupy. Some of these roles require the priesthood, especially for the men, but there are at least as many that do not require the priesthood, including all of the teachers in the Sunday School, the Primary (children’s organization), those who work with the teenaged youth, and the like. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of the pulpit preaching at Sunday worship services is provided by ordinary lay members selected a week or two in advance. Children, and even babies, are expected to be present, providing a more or less constant level of infant noises that would be astonishing in most mainline Protestant services, to say nothing of Catholic or Anglican masses.

Presiding over these worship services, and everything else in a Mormon ward, is a pastor called “bishop” who serves with two counselors or assistants in a triumvirate called a “bishopric.” Wards vary in size from about 200 to 500 members. A ward bishop serves without pay for a term typically of about five years, though his counselors might come and go during that term. The ward organization under the bishop includes scores of volunteers staffing all the auxiliaries, some of whom comprise advisory councils that meet and consult with the bishop regularly. Whatever a bishop’s regular occupation or educational background, he is the ultimate arbiter for a surprising variety of decisions in the life of a ward, and even in the personal lives of individual members who might seek his counsel. Several wards in a given locale are organized into a stake led by a “stake president” who, again, serves with two counselors as a “stake presidency.” His term of office is typically about ten years with perhaps some turnover in his counselors during that period. A stake president consults regularly with a 12-man “stake high council,” the composition of which might change with some regularity as the high councilors rotate off to other leadership positions in the stake. Presidents of stakes are given a certain degree of autonomy by the General Authorities. They are somewhat removed from the day to day (and week to week) responsibilities handled by bishops at the grassroots but exercise ultimate executive responsibility and authority over their stakes and wards (“Lay Leadership” 2013).


Some issues and challenges are of long standing in Mormonism. No single issue from Mormon history has clouded the image of the Church as much as the nineteenth-century practice of “plural marriage” (the term preferred by the Mormons). Although it involved instances of both polygyny and polyandry in its earliest experimental days, it became exclusively polygynous in Utah, though usually called by the more general term “polygamy.” Abandoned by the Church in 1890 as a matter of policy (under great government pressure), the policy change was not conscientiously enforced in practice within the Church for another twenty years. Even then, one or two “die-hard” factions broke off and formed new polygamous sects that have continued to exist (with some additional fragmentations) down to the present time. Even though the main LDS Church in recent years has collaborated with government agencies in trying to stamp out polygamy, these sects have continued to exist, and even to grow, mainly in various remote locations. Efforts to eliminate them, or to curtail their activities, have resulted in a number of rather dramatic incidents, widely covered in the mass media, where the sects have still regularly been labeled as “Mormons.” Strenuous efforts by the now monogamous Church to distinguish itself from these polygamous sects have proved largely to be in vain, especially as these sects have been used as material for new and salacious television shows. Somewhat ironically, this issue continues to recur in public conceptions about Mormons partly because the Church itself has never repudiated its earlier practice of polygamy, either publicly or privately, maintaining instead that the practice was divinely justified in its time and was based on scriptural precedent in the Old Testament. Furthermore the revelation received by Joseph Smith establishing the practice remains in the Mormon canon to this day (Bradley 1993; Compton 1997; Daynes 2001; Gordon 2002; Hardy 1992).

A second problem from the past is the residue of racism in the LDS Church. From about 1850 to 1978, the Church withheld its lay priesthood from any member with any black African ancestry. This policy did not begin with the founding prophet Joseph Smith, who, in fact, did authorize ordination of a few black Mormon men. However, Brigham Young instituted a firm ban on such ordinations for reasons that were never clear but apparently politically motivated. Scholarship among Mormons remains active on the policy’s origins, but so far without a consensus. Successors to Young saw no reason to reverse his policy, especially given the rise of Jim Crow policies throughout the rest of the nation after the Civil War. This discriminatory policy was especially conspicuous in the LDS Church because of its otherwise universal lay priesthood for male members starting at age twelve. Other denominations could, and did, restrict access to ordination simply by restricting access to the professional seminaries to start with (like access to medical schools and law schools in the rest of the nation). Most such racial restrictions in various American institutions had fallen by the mid-1960s (or earlier) under political pressure from the national Civil Rights Movement, but the restriction in the LDS Church lasted about a decade longer, until 1978. Since then official LDS Church policy and practice have been strongly and sincerely non-racist in all respects. However, as with polygamy, there has never been an official repudiation of, or explanation for, the racist policies of the past, and various forms of racist folklore have continued to circulate at the Mormon grassroots, occasionally receiving public expression. This has created consternation among LDS Church leaders and has been a detriment to the Mormon public image (Bringhurst 1981; Bush and Mauss 1984; Mauss 2003).

A third issue, somewhat derivative from the polygamous past, would be the conservative LDS Church policies toward gender definitions and differences. Somewhat ironically, prominent Mormon women were very active in the national feminist movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, at least partly as a political strategy to gain the friendship of the early feminist leaders in the nation and thereby to neutralize somewhat the feminist (and national) criticisms of Mormon polygamy. One of the practical arguments that early Mormons offered in defense of polygamy was that in polygamous households, women would have the freedom to take turns with their “sister wives” in child-rearing during extended periods while pursuing other, extra-domestic activities and careers of their own. A few prominent early Mormon women actually went outside Utah to medical schools on this basis, but it wasn’t practical for the great majority of polygamous wives, who lived separately in their own households as “single mothers,” in effect, most of the time. In any case, when polygamy was finally abandoned, one of the ways that the LDS Church leaders tried to demonstrate their new commitment to “normal” American monogamy was to embrace the national norm of “neo-Victorian domesticity,” whereby a woman’s place was in the home.

Gender roles in Mormon culture (at least in the U.S.) have thus remained conservative down to the present, being canonized, ineffect, by “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” issued by the First Presidency and the Apostles in 1995. The traditional restraints on women’s roles in the LDS Church, including access to the priesthood, are a source of discontent among a relatively small minority of women, mostly in the younger generations, and efforts by the leaders to respond to their concerns have led to a noticeable fraying around the edges of the traditional gender roles among the Mormons in actual practice. The institutional conservatism in family and gender indoctrination arises mainly from a general assessment among Mormon leaders that traditional marriage and family life are under serious attack in the surrounding secular world and must therefore be strongly defended in LDS Church doctrine and practice. The leadership is not reassured as it watches its modern flock suffer from family disintegrations, divorce, sexual permissiveness, and disaffected youth, all of which are occurring at lower rates than in most religious communities, but still at noticeably higher rates than in earlier generations (Bradley 2005; Hanks 1992; Scott and Thatcher 2005).

As for more contemporary issues and challenges, the traditional institutional conservatism toward family matters among the Mormons also explains the resistance of LDS Church leaders in recent years to the increasing permissiveness in national and international norms toward homosexual expressions, and particularly toward same-sex marriage. Since the end of polygamy, Mormonism has bestowed a sanctity upon traditional monogamous and heterosexual marriage, which has profound soteriological significance in the next world. Mormons in relationships that are physically homosexual thus cannot enjoy full standing and acceptance in the LDS Church and are likely to be excommunicated if their relationships become public. Recently the LDS Church has clarified its position by specifying that homosexual feelings and preferences are not sinful and should not prevent a member from full participation in the activities and rituals of the LDS Church (even in leadership roles) as long as the member remains celibate, for homosexual acts are still considered sinful. Different individual Mormons have worked out different ways to deal with the dilemma which the LDS Church teaching presents for them. Some have opted for a life of celibacy in order to maintain full standing in the LDS Church. Others have been willing to enter heterosexual marriages and make the best of them (with equally willing and informed spouses). This is not a choice advocated by the LDS Church these days, though it was proposed in the past by some leaders. Thus both gender roles and homosexuality will continue to be problematic issues for the LDS Church in the foreseeable future (“A Discussion on Same Sex Attraction” 2012; Matis, Matis, and Mansfield 2006; Phillips 2004; Schow, Schow, and Raynes 1991).

Many commentators and scholars have pointed to the rapid growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since the
middle of the twentieth century. Sociologist Rodney Stark not only used this church as an historic case exemplifying and demonstrating what it takes for a new religious movement to grow, but he claimed that it might be the first major faith to appear on earth since Mohammed rode out of the desert. In fact, official LDS Church records do show that the mere million Mormons in the mid-1940s had become fourteen million by 2013, a trajectory that Stark thought could produce almost 300 million by the end of the twenty first century. Yet, as Stark himself was well aware, such straight-line projections do not take into account many factors that can limit growth or even reverse it as time goes on (Stark 2005). For Mormons, a major mitigating factor in any such projections must be the LDS Church’s high drop-out rate, which has been noticeably large among Mormon converts during the past few decades, especially outside the U.S., but even among American converts as well.

The LDS Church has made efforts, both in focused social research and in organizational recovery programs, to stem the continuing stream of drop-outs, but the built-in incentives within the proselytizing program itself encourage missionaries to recruit and baptize many who are not really converted, and who, in fact, often have been exposed to the LDS Church’s teachings and expectations for only a few weeks. As a result, census records around the world that ask people for their religious identification reveal that only between twenty-five percent and thirty-five percent of the membership on LDS Church records will claim LDS identity; or, in North America, perhaps forty percent to fifty percent. These figures might be better (or at least no worse) than levels of participation in the Protestant mainline denominations, but they are far worse than the comparable ones for other proselytizing bodies, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses or Seventh Day Adventists. Until LDS Church leaders can find a way to change the present situation of “easy in/easy out” among new converts, claims of rapid LDS growth, either by the LDS Church itself or by outside commentators, will have to be qualified (“International Resources for Latter-day Saints” n.d.)

Beyond the issue of retaining its converts, the LDS Church, as it has matured into a stable denomination, has begun to have many of the same problems facing other religions that have been in existence across generations. That is, the LDS experience in the U.S. has replicated in many ways the typical evolution from sect-like origins to church-like accommodations with the surrounding society in a quest for increasing respectability. One common casualty of this process is that the other-worldly myths and truth-claims, which so gripped the imaginations of a relatively unsophisticated founding generation, come to be seen by the more highly educated of later generations as straining their credulity. Religious traditions of even a couple centuries in length, furthermore, almost always have to deal with scandals or unsavory episodes involving either the personal behavior or the excessive demands, or both, of prominent leaders. The history of the Mormon movement is long enough to have had its share of such scandals and episodes (and then some), but that history is recent enough that it does not benefit by the attenuated documentation and sheer venerability of much older traditions with their own dubious historical teachings and moments. To make matters worse for the Mormons, their founders and their antagonists have both left behind a rich documentary record that has been mined extensively for scandals, counter-evidence against truth-claims, and other anomalies by anti-Mormon and ex-Mormon websites not available a generation ago. The LDS Church is trying to keep ahead of this challenge with its own considerable proliferation of websites promoting faith, demystifying its history, and enhancing its public image, but these efforts so far have been only partly successful in retaining and recovering disillusioned youth and young adults.


“A Discussion on Same Sex Attraction. 2012. Accessed from on 22 July 2012.

Alexander, Thomas G. 1986. Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Arrington, Leonard J. 2004 [1958]. Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Arrington, Leonard J. 1988. Adventures of a Church Historian. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Arrington, Leonard J. 1985. Brigham Young: American Moses. New York: Alfred Knopf.

Backman, Milton V. 1983. The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830-1838. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co.

Bennett, Richard E. 2004. Mormons at the Missouri, 1846-1852. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. Second Edition.

Bennett, Richard E. 1997. We’ll Find the Place: The Mormon Exodus, 1846-1848. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co.

Bringhurst, Newell G. 1986. Brigham Young and the Expanding America Frontier. Little, Brown.

Bringhurst, Newell G. 1981. Saints, Slaves, and Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People within Mormonism. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

Bradley, Martha S. 2005. Pedestals and Podiums: Utah Women, Religious Authority and Equal Rights. Salt Lake CT: Signature Books.

Bradley, Martha S. 1993. Kidnapped from that Land: The Government Raids on the Short Creek Polygamists. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

Brodie, Fawn M. 1945. No Man Knows My History: The Story of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet. New York: Alfred Knopf. (Second Edition 1971).

Brooke, John L. 1994. The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644- 1844. Cambridge University Press.

Brooks, Juanita.1950. The Mountain Meadows Massacre. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Bush, Lester E. and Armand L. Mauss, eds. 1984. Neither White nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church. Salt Lake City: Signature Books.

Bushman, Richard L. 2005. Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography of Mormonism’s Founder. New York : Alfred Knopf.

Campbell, Eugene E. 1988. Establishing Zion : The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847 – 1869. Salt Lake City: Signature Books.

Compton, Todd M. 1997. In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City : Signature Books.

Cross, Whitney R. 1950. The Burned-over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850. Ithaca , NY: Cornell University Press.

Daynes, Kathryn M. 2001. More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840 -1910. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Derr, Jill Mulvay, Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, and Janath Cannon. 1992. Women of he Covenant: The Story of the Relief Society. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book.

Edwards, Paul M. 1991. Our Legacy of Faith: A Brief History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House.

Firmage, Edwin B. and Richard C. Mangrum. 1988. Zion in the Courts: A Legal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 1830-1900. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Flake, Kathleen. 2004. The Politics of American Religious Liberty: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle. Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press.

Flanders, Robert B. 1965. Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Fluhman, J. Spencer. 2012. A Peculiar People: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America. Chapel Hill , NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Furniss, Norman F. 1960. The Mormon Conflict, 1850-1859 . New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

“General Authorities.” 2012. Accessed from on 22 July 2013.

Gentry, Leland H. and Todd M. Compton. 2010. Fire and Sword: History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri, 1836-39. Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books.

Givens, Terryl L. 2003. By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion. New York: Oxford University Press.

Givens, Terry L. 2009. The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Givens, Terryl L. 1997. The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gordon, Sarah Barringer. 2002. The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Hanks, Maxine, ed. 1992. Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism. Salt Lake City: Signature Books.

Hardy, B. Carmon. 1992. Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Hardy, Grant, ed. 2003. The Book of Mormon: Reader’s Edition. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Hill, Donna. 1977. Joseph Smith, the First Mormon. New York: Doubleday.

“International Resources for Latter-Day Saints.” n.d. Accessed from on 22 July 2013.

Launius, Roger D. 1995. Joseph Smith III: Pragmatic Prophet. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

“Lay Leadership. 2013. Accessed from on 22 July 2013.

Leonard, Glen M. 2002. Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, a People of Promise. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co.

LeSueur, S. C. 1987. The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

Lyman, E. Leo. 1986. Political Deliverance: The Mormon Quest for Utah Statehood. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

MacKinnon, William B. 2008. At Sword’s Point, Part 1: A Documentary History of the Utah War to 1858. Norman, OK: Arthur H. Clark Co.

Mason, Patrick. 2011. The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South. New York: Oxford University Press.

Matis, Fred, Marilyn Matis, and Ty Mansfield. 2006. In Quiet Desperation: Understanding the Challenge of Same-Gender Attraction. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co.

Mauss, Armand L. 2011. “Rethinking Retrenchment: Course Corrections in the Ongoing Quest for Respectability.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 44:1-42.

Mauss, Armand L. 2003. All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Mauss, Armand L. 1994. The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. 2012a. “Americans Learned Little About the Mormon Faith, But Some Attitudes Have Softened.”Accessed from on 22 July2013.

Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. 2012b. Mormons in America . Accessed from on 22 July 2012.

Phillips, Rick. 2004. Conservative Christian Identity and Same-Sex Orientation: The Case of Gay Mormons. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Quinn, D. Michael. 1998. Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. Salt Lake City: Signature Books.

Ricketts, Norma B. 1996. The Mormon Battalion: U. S. Army of the West, 1846-1848. Logan: Utah State University Press.

Schow, Ron, H. Wayne Schow, and Marybeth Raynes, eds. 1991. Peculiar People: Mormons and Same-Sex Orientation. Salt Lake City: Signature Books.

Scott, Patricia Lyn and Linda Thatcher, eds. 2005. Women in Utah History; Paradigm or Paradox? Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Shepherd, Gordon and Gary Shepherd. 1984. A Kingdom Transformed: Themes in the Development of Mormonism. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

Shields, Steven L. 1986. Latter Day Saint Beliefs: A Comparison between the RLDS Church and the LDS Church. Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House.

Staker, Mark L. 2009. Hearken O Ye People: The Historical Setting for Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations . Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books.

Stark, Rodney. 2005. The Rise of Mormonism. New York: Columbia University Press (edited by Reid L. Neilson).

Stegner, Wallace. 1992 [1964]. The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Turner, John G. 2012. Brigham Young, Pioneer Prophet. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Walker, Ronald W., Richard E.Turley, and Glen M. Leonard. 2005. The Massacre at Mountain Meadows: An American Tragedy. New York: Oxford University Press

White, O. Kendall. 1987. Mormon Neo-Orthodoxy: A Crisis Theology. Salt Lake City: Signature Books.

Yorgason, Ethan R. 2003. Transformation of the Mormon Culture Region. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.


The literature cited in this profile of the Latter-day Saints rarely includes official publications of the Church, which tend, of course, to be apologetic or hagiographic in nature. Since the middle of the twentieth century, the cumulative scholarly literature on the Mormons has grown to enormous proportions. While most of the authors have been (and remain) Mormons with varying degrees of commitment to their religious tradition, their work has been published mostly by university and commercial presses that have subjected it fully to a professional peer review process to ensure scholarship that is careful, responsible, and not unduly tendentious. Some of the best books have come from the public university presses of Utah; but most of them have come from respected national university presses, especially the University of Illinois Press (because of the efforts and interests of one particular non-Mormon editor there) and, more recently, from the Oxford University Press, plus several other university presses somewhat less frequently. Important scholarly works by non-Mormon scholars are also starting to appear more frequently in recent years than earlier.

General Historical and Contemporary Studies of the Mormons

Bowman, Matthew B. 2012. The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith . New York: Random House.

Bushman, Claudia L. 2006. Contemporary Mormonism: Latter-day Saints in Modern America. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Bushman, Richard L. 2008. Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Davies, Douglas J. 2003. An Introduction to Mormonism. Cambridge, UK : Cambridge University Press.

Givens, Terryl L. 2007. People of Paradox: A Cultural History of the Mormon People. New York: Oxford University Press.

Givens, Terryl L. 2004. The Latter-day Saint Experience in America. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

Hammarberg, Melvin. 2013. The Mormon Quest for Glory. New York: Oxford University Press.

O’Dea, Thomas F. 1957. The Mormons. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ostling, Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling. 2007 [rev. ed]. Mormon America: The Power and the Promise. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Shipps, Jan. 1985. Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Winn, Kenneth H. 1990. Exiles in a Land of Liberty: Mormons in America, 1830-1846. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press .

Bibliographic Guides, Encyclopedias, Handbooks, Atlases:

Allen, James B., Ronald W. Walker, and David J. Whittaker. 2000. Studies in Mormon History, 1830-1997: An Indexed Bibliography. Urbana: University of Illinois Press (including a Topical Guide to Social Science Literature on the Mormons ).

Givens, Terryl L. and Philip L. Barlow, eds. 2013. The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism. NewYork: Oxford University Press.

Ludlow, Daniel H., ed. 1992. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism. 5 vols. New York: Macmillan (prepared under Church auspices but commercially published).

Plewe, Brandon S., S. Kent Jackson, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard H. Jackson, eds. 2012. Mapping Mormonism: An Atlas of Latter-day Saint History. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press.

Reeve, W. Paul and Ardis E. Parshall, eds. 2010. Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Riess, Jana, and Christopher K. Bigelow. 2005. Mormonism for Dummies. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing Co.

Sherlock, Richard, and Carl Mosser, eds. 2013. The Mormon World (Routledge Worlds series). New York: Routledge.

Walker, Ronald W., David J. Whittaker, and James B. Allen. 2001. Mormon History (a survey including an essay on social science literature). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Whittaker, David J., ed. 1995. Mormon Americana: A Guide to Sources and Collections in the United States. Provo, UT: BYU Studies Press.

Periodical Literature

Besides the scholarly works of book length, the burgeoning literature on Mormons includes several periodicals that have sprung up among LDS intellectuals since about 1960. The generation of Mormon scholars which newly emerged at midcentury began founding its own scholarly societies and journals soon after finishing graduate degrees. Most of these new institutions are interdisciplinary, but theology, the social sciences, and especially history have been the main preoccupations. Nearly all have been founded and maintained entirely independently of church control, sometimes to the dismay of the more conservative church leaders. While these publications include personal essays, devotional articles, fiction, and poetry, they are also the most important periodicals of serious and competent historical and social science scholarship on the Mormons. Most are carefully refereed by expert peers, including many scholars who happen to be non-Mormons or lapsed Mormons. Premier among these journals is Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought , but the others are all produced with equal competence. Following is a brief description of the most general and important ones in the chronological order of their founding.

Brigham Young University Studies or BYU Studies (1959). Edited and published quarterly in Provo , Utah , at BYU. Articles in theology, history, and the social sciences are peer reviewed and generally of strong scholarly calibre, but given the official Church auspices, the editorial policy is cautious and faith-affirming. Articles vary among research-based pieces, personal essays, fiction, and poetry.

Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (1966). Published quarterly in Salt Lake City but edited in various locations depending on the residence of the editor. Independently owned and published by the Dialogue Foundation of Salt Lake City. Articles are peer reviewed and generally of strong scholarly calibre. Like BYU Studies , each issue contains different kinds of articles, many of which deal with current Mormon history, social issues, or theology, including some rather controversial pieces. Dialogue produces a DVD containing all back issues, fully indexed, searchable, and updated biennially..

Journal of Mormon History , or JMH (1974). Published annually, 1974-1991, then semi-annually from 1992-2004, and eventually quarterly. It is independently owned and published by the 1,200-member Mormon History Association (est.1965) in Salt Lake City . This Association holds annual conferences at various sites of special historical significance for Mormons in the U.S. and elsewhere. Articles are peer reviewed, generally of strong scholarly calibre, and exclusively historical in nature, though sometimes recent or current history. This journal too produces a DVD containing all back issues, fully indexed, searchable, and updated periodically.

Sunstone (1975). Edited and published in Salt Lake City in glossy magazine format, usually four or five times annually. It is independently owned by the Sunstone Foundation of Salt Lake City, which also sponsors the annual Sunstone Symposium in Utah each summer, as well as smaller regional symposia at other times of the year. Not a scholarly journal in the usual sense, Sunstone is nevertheless a “high-brow” magazine for intellectuals, featuring shorter articles than those found in the other periodicals. Many of the articles are substantial scholarly treatments of theological, historical, or current social issues. Of all the periodicals mentioned here, Sunstone is the one most likely to publish controversial and even irreverent articles, stories, letters, news items, and cartoons.

None of these journals has a large circulation, in most cases around 2,000 or fewer (except for BYU Studies, subsidized by the university and thus by the Church, with a circulation of about double that figure). There are a few other periodicals for readers interested mainly in genres that are literary, theological, or other specialties, but the four briefly described above carry the material of most general interest to the relatively few Mormons seeking intellectual fare independent of Church control or auspices.

Post Date:
27 July 2013