Definitions

Mormon

Mormon

[mawr-muhn]

Member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or of a sect closely related to it (e.g., the Community of Christ). The Mormon religion was founded by Joseph Smith, who claimed to have received an angelic vision telling him of the location of golden plates containing God's revelation; this he published in 1830 as the Book of Mormon. Smith and his followers accepted the Bible as well as the Mormon sacred scriptures but diverged significantly from orthodox Christianity, especially in their assertion that God exists in three distinct entities as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Mormons also believe that faithful members of the church will inherit eternal life as gods. Other unique doctrines include the belief in preexisting souls waiting to be born and in salvation of the dead through retroactive baptism. The church became notorious for its practice of polygamy, though it was officially sanctioned only between 1852 and 1890. Smith and his followers migrated from Palmyra, N.Y., to Ohio, Missouri, and finally Illinois, where Smith was killed by a mob in 1844. In 1846–47, under Brigham Young, the Mormons made a 1,100-mi (1,800-km) trek to Utah, where they founded Salt Lake City. In the early 21st century, the church had a worldwide membership of nearly 10 million, swelled yearly by the missionary work that church members, both men and women, are encouraged to perform.

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Mormon is a term used to describe the adherents, practitioners, followers or constituents of Mormonism. The term most often refers to a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), which is commonly called the Mormon Church. The LDS Church believes that "Mormon" should properly be applied only to its members. However, the term is often used more broadly to describe any individual or group that believes in the Book of Mormon, and other Latter Day Saint groups. According to the Book of Mormon, Mormon is the name of the prophet who compiled the book of scripture known as the Book of Mormon.

Origin of the term

The term "Mormon" has its origins in the Book of Mormon, which is believed by Latter Day Saints to be a religious and historical record translated from golden plates by Joseph Smith, Jr. into English by divine inspiration. Joseph Smith stated that he was instructed by the Angel Moroni to go to the hill Cumorah in upstate New York where he found the ancient record. He was given stewardship over its translation in 1827. The book relates a history of three civilizations in the Americas from approximately 2700 BC through 420 AD, written by their prophets and followers of Jesus Christ. It contains the teachings of Jesus Christ to the people in the Americas as well as recounting Christ's personal ministry among the people of Nephi after his resurrection. Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon is another scriptural witness of Jesus Christ that is comparable to the Bible , which they also believe to be the word of God. The book gets its name from Mormon, the prophet said to have abridged the record during the 4th century.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the earliest published usages of the term "Mormon" to describe believers in the Book of Mormon was in 1833 by the Louisville (Kentucky) Daily Herald in an article, "The Mormons and the Anti-Mormons".

Popular usage

The term "Mormon" is most often used to refer to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The LDS Church holds that it is incorrect to apply "Mormon" to other groups or their members. The AP Stylebook agrees, specifying that the term "Mormon" is not properly applied to other Latter Day Saint groups founded after the death of Joseph Smith, Jr.

Nevertheless, the term is also often used to refer to fundamentalist groups who continue to practice plural marriage, a practice that the LDS Church officially abandoned in 1890. These groups, while numerically much smaller than the LDS Church, continue to use the term "Mormon" and claim to represent "true Mormonism" as taught and practiced by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, though this is rejected by members of the LDS Church. These same offshoots have different teachings than the LDS church in order to follow what they believe was taught by the same early leaders.

The term "Mormon" is generally disfavored by other denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement, such as the Community of Christ, which have distinct histories from that of the LDS Church since Smith's death in 1844.

The terms "Mormon" and "Mormonite" were first used in the 1830s as pejoratives to describe those who followed Joseph Smith and believed in the divine origin of the Book of Mormon.

"Mormon Church"

The official name of the Salt Lake City, Utah-based church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While the term "Mormon Church" has long been attached to the church as a nickname, it is an unauthorized title, and its use is not encouraged by the church, although the use of "Mormon" in other contexts is not generally considered offensive and is commonly used by the church's members. LDS leaders have encouraged members to use the church's full name to emphasize the church's focus on Jesus Christ.

Scholarly usage

Some scholars, such as J. Gordon Melton, in his Encyclopedia of American Religion, subdivide the Mormons into Utah Mormons and Missouri Mormons. In this scheme, the Utah Mormon group includes all the organizations descending from those Mormons who followed Brigham Young to what is now Utah. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is by far the largest of these groups, and the only group to initially reside in Utah. The Missouri Mormons include those who chose not to travel to Utah, and the organizations formed from them — the Community of Christ, Church of Christ (Temple Lot), Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and others.

The terms "Utah Mormon" and "Missouri Mormon" are problematic because the majority of each of these branches' members no longer live in either of these U.S. states. Although a majority of Utahns are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the LDS Church has a worldwide membership with the majority of its members outside the United States. Nor are most "Missouri Mormons" based in Missouri. Notable exceptions include the Pennsylvania-based Church of Jesus Christ, which considers Sidney Rigdon to be Joseph Smith's rightful successor, and the Wisconsin-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite), which considers James J. Strang to be Smith's rightful successor.

Addressing some of the limitations of the Utah/Missouri designations, some historians have now coined the terms Rocky Mountain Saints and Prairie Saints to rename the "Utah" and "Missouri" branches of the movement. These new terms have begun to gain a following among historians today, but similar to the above mentioned titles, they are not of common usage among the majority of those who call themselves Mormons.

Meaning of the word

The May 15, 1843 issue of the Mormon periodical Times and Seasons contains an article purportedly written by Joseph Smith, Jr. where he extols the following meaning of the word "Mormon" (T&S 13:194):

It has been stated that this word [mormon] was derived from the Greek word "mormo." This is not the case. There was no Greek or Latin upon the plates from which I, through the grace of God, translated the Book of Mormon.... [The] Bible in its widest sense, means good; for the Savior says according to the gospel of John, "I am the good shepherd;" and it will not be beyond the common use of terms, to say that good is among the most important in use, and though known by various names in different languages, still its meaning is the same, and is ever in opposition to "bad." We say from the Saxon, "good"; the Dane, "god"; the Goth, "goda"; the German, "gut"; the Dutch, "goed"; the Latin, "bonus"; the Greek, "kalos"; the Hebrew, "tob"; and the Egyptian, "mon." Hence, with the addition of "more," or the contraction, "mor," we have the word "mor-mon"; which means, literally, "more good.

B. H. Roberts removed the quote from the History of the Church, claiming to have found evidence that W. W. Phelps wrote that paragraph and that it was "based on inaccurate premises and was offensively pedantic. LDS Church Apostle Gordon B. Hinckley noted that the "more good" translation is incorrect but added that "Mormon means 'more good'" is a positive motto for members of the LDS Church.

Meaning in the Book of Mormon

According to the Book of Mormon, a man named Mormon compiled nearly 1000 years of writings as well as chronicled events during his lifetime. The text of the Book of Mormon consists of this compilation and his own writings with some additional writings. For his work, the book is named after him.

The first usage of the name 'Mormon' in the actual text of the Book of Mormon is as a place name in Mosiah 18:4.

And it came to pass that as many as did believe him did go forth to a place which was called Mormon, having received its name from the king, being in the borders of the land having been infested, by times or at seasons, by wild beasts.

Confusion with other religious groups

Despite some misconceptions over similar nicknames and stereotypes, Mormons are not in any way associated with the Quakers (members of the Religious Society of Friends), Mennonites, Amish, or Jehovah's Witnesses. Mormonism originated separately from these groups, and is distinct in culture, practice, theology, and worship.

Trademark

In some countries, Mormon and some phrases including the term are registered trademarks owned by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. In the United States, the LDS Church has applied for a trademark on "Mormon" as applied to religious services; however, the United States Patent and Trademark Office rejected the application, stating that the term "Mormon" was too generic, and is popularly understood as referring to a particular kind of church, similar to "Presbyterian" or "Methodist", rather than a service mark. The application is on appeal as of mid-2007.

See also

References

External links

  • LDS Newsroom LDS Church criticisms of the use of the word "Mormon" in news reports
  • Mormon.org - Official outreach web site for the LDS Church.
  • "The Mormons" - PBS Special can be watched online
  • Mormon Times - For and about members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • LDS Church News - An official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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