Part I of II: History, Stats, and Beliefs
Over the past year or so, Lisa and I have had several encounters with Mormon missionaries. We have neighbors who are very active in the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter-Day Saints (LDS) and they seem to send missionaries our way. I wanted to take some time on the blog to give a little background on the Mormon Church (Part I--History, Stats, and Beliefs) and to briefly outline how to articulate the Catholic faith in the face of the message that Mormon missionaries deliver (Part II).
The history of the Mormons begins with Joseph Smith. Smith was born in Vermont in the year 1805. Eventually, his family moves to rural upstate New York. In the year 1820, he claims that the personages of the Father and the Son appeared to him in an orange grove. Smith asks what Church is the true Church to which the personages reply, “none of them, for they were all wrong.” Then, in 1823, an angel by the name Moroni appears to him and reveals golden plates. Smith was unable to remove the plates for a four year period. After his marriage to his wife Emma, he is able to remove the plates. Smith translates them by using a seer stone and looking into the bottom of a hat without looking directly at the plate themselves. The angel Moroni would later take these plates back to heaven.
The translation of these plates produced what we now have as the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon centers around the story that the lost tribes of Israel came to America. After his death, Jesus appears to this tribes and preaches the Gospel. Through this story, several new teachings appear that are not found in the Old or New Testament.
After the translation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith forms what he believes is the only true Church. He spreads his message to family members and then to several others. He sets up several communities of believers, but each time the new Mormons are driven out of the area. In 1844, through an argument on the teaching on polygamy, Smith is thrown in jail and an angry mob murders him.
At this time, the Church splits. A few of the members follows Smith’s wife Emma and his son as the successor of the Church. This Church is called “The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” or RLDS. The majority of the believers follow Brigham Young to Utah to form the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), also known as the Mormons.
Stats on the LDS Church:
14,000,000 members worldwide
Over 50,000 (!) Mormons serve an unpaid two year mission
One of the fastest growing religions in the world today
Some of Their Unique Beliefs:
Revelation: God’s Word continues even after the Old and New Testament. Not only is the Book of Mormon and other Scriptures introduced, but Mormons have an existing prophet that can speak on matters of faith on par with Scripture.
Trinity: Mormons believe that Jesus Christ was like us at one point in time and eventually became God. Similarly, we can do the same and become gods as well. This is obviously much difference than the orthodox Christian stance on the Trinity and the difference between man and God. In fact, while Mormons baptize their members, the Catholic Church does not recognize this Baptism as valid.
Polygamy: Perhaps their most controversial view, early Mormons including Joseph Smith and Brigham Young practiced polygamy and later claimed it was a revelation from God. Joseph Smith also said that in order to ascend to the highest level of godhood, one needed to practice polygamy and seal a marriage for all of time and eternity. While members of the LDS Church do not practice polygamy today, they only do so because it is illegal. Because Joseph Smith’s covenant was an eternal one, it cannot be revoked. From my understanding, if polygamy were legal, then Mormons would assumably continue this practice.
There are many more unique beliefs of the Mormons, but I will stop there for now. Next time: How to respond as a Catholic when Mormons coming knocking at your door.