Friday, July 29, 2011

Religion Friday: Mormonism

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, was founded by Joseph Smith in New York in the mid-1800s. According to tradition, Smith was conflicted over the many sects of Christianity. This was in the 1830s, when frontier America was in a religious frenzy known as the Second Great Awakening. Smith prayed to God, asking which church was the right church; the answer was none. An angel name Moroni revealed golden plates with another testament of the Bible (Book of Mormon), detailing the history of a Jewish tribe and Christ in North America. Smith wrote other books like Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price.

The Mormons were attacked and pushed out west by locals for many years. They tried to reclaim what they felt was Zion/the Garden of Eden in Jackson County, Missouri, but were violently thrown out. They eventually settled in the Utah territory. The head of the church is in Salt Lake City. They believe in a continuing revelation, meaning prophets exist in modern times. Today, there are over 14 million followers.
Mormons believe that everyone is a literal spirit-child of God. The spirit exists before and after this life and will become like a god/goddess. Families are not only important in this life but stay together afterwards as well. Because the family is eternal, it is the core of the faith. Mormons tend to have larger families than average, and they participate in family activities together, such as the well-known Family Home Evening. Couples that get married in a temple are also sealed together so that the marriage will continue into the afterlife.

Most people probably know the LDS Church by its missionaries. Young men who hold a priesthood (are in good standing with the church) are required to go on a two year mission. Women are allowed to go on 18-month missions, but it is not required. Missionaries travel in pairs and are often seen going door-to-door sharing the Book of Mormon. I can’t say that this is the most effective way to win over converts, at least around here, I admire the missionaries. I think the mission has almost as much to do with strengthening and deepening the faith of the already faithful than gaining new members.

The most controversial issue with the Mormon faith is actually a principle that hasn’t been practiced by the LDS Church since Utah became a state: polygamy. Joseph Smith first supported monogamy, but had the revelation that plural marriage was ordained by God, also citing the commonality of plural marriage in the Old Testament. It was believed that a man needed multiple wives to reach the top level of heaven in the afterlife. The U.S. government refused to grant statehood to Utah until this practice was stopped. Some fundamental sects of Mormonism believe the LDS Church sold out its beliefs for statehood, while the LDS Church maintains that new revelations from a prophet led to the end of the practice.

Mormons consider themselves Christians, so why did I include this in the religion tour since I’m focusing on faiths other than Christianity? While I do believe that the LDS Church does share a love of Christ and Christian themes with most Christian denominations, the addition of another testament marks it as a distinctly different faith in my eyes. Just as the New Testament makes Christians separate from Jews, the Book of Mormon places the LDS Church outside of the big umbrella of Christian sects. It is a bigger divide than just different interpretations.

While there are many things about Joseph Smith I don’t believe/don’t agree with, the story of how he first came to start a church really touches me. The Second Great Awakening was probably a scary time, and I can understand the confusion of which church is speaking the Truth when so many travelling pastors are saying different things with a “turn or burn” rhetoric. And I do think that if God answered the question, “Which church has it right?” the answer would indeed be, “None.” Not that the Christian churches are wrong in their teachings, but that no church has it exactly right. They are fallible and subject to human interpretation and interference. It doesn’t mean that someone can’t have a genuine relationship with God in that church. It just means churches should recognize that they aren’t perfect or 100% right, and they should strive to perfect the church’s relationship with God as well as the individual’s.

Next Friday: Baha'i. This will be the conclusion of the World Religion Tour.

[The figure is of the angel Moroni, which sits atop some of the LDS temples.]

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