The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the fourth largest Christian denomination in the United States and the largest and most well-known denomination originating from the Latter Day Saint movement founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. on April 6, 1830. The Church is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, and has established congregations and temples worldwide, reporting approximately 13 million members on its rolls.
Adherents—usually referred to as Latter-day Saints, LDS, or Mormons—are Restorationist Christians and are not a part of the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church or any of the varied Protestant traditions. The Church teaches that sometime after the events depicted in the New Testament, there was a Great Apostasy, or loss of authority to lead Christ's Church, to preach the Gospel, and to administer the ordinances of the Church. Because men relied on their own knowledge to understand the Gospel, the fullness of Jesus Christ's gospel was lost from the earth.
Jesus Christ is viewed as the head of the Church, leading it today through revelations given to a hierarchy of priesthood leaders to whom the authority has been restored. The highest-ranking leader is the President of the Church, who is considered to be a prophet and an apostle.
According to Church teachings, Jesus is the Divine Son of God the Father, delivered to the earth by the virgin Mary. It teaches that Jesus lived a sinless life, and that his suffering at Gethsemane, the shedding of his blood, his crucifixion, his death and resurrection were sufficient to satisfy the demands of eternal justice and make an infinite atonement for the sins of all humanity. It teaches a belief in Jesus' literal, bodily resurrection, and that he currently sits at the right hand of God the Father. The Church teaches that Jesus is united in purpose with the Father, but that the Father and the Son are distinct, glorified, perfected beings of flesh and bone, rather than solely spirit.
The Church also distinguishes itself from other Christian denominations by its practice of temple ordinances, eternal marriage, and teaching that Jesus visited and preached in the Americas after his resurrection, as related in the Book of Mormon.
The LDS Church is overwhelmingly the largest denomination of the Latter Day Saint movement and is a continuation of the Church of Christ, established by Joseph Smith, Jr. on April 6, 1830 in New York. Smith organized the Church soon after publishing the Book of Mormon, one of the faith's scriptures, which he claimed to have translated from plates of gold that were buried near his house in a place shown to him by the angel Moroni.
The Church rapidly gained a following, who viewed Smith as their prophet. In late 1830, Smith envisioned a "city of Zion" a Utopia type city in Native American lands near Independence, Missouri. In October 1830, he sent his Assistant President, Oliver Cowdery, and others on a mission to the area. Passing through Kirtland, Ohio, the missionaries converted a congregation of Disciples of Christ led by Sidney Rigdon, and in 1831, Smith decided to temporarily move his followers to Kirtland until lands in the Missouri area could be purchased. In the meantime, the Church's headquarters remained in Kirtland from 1831 to 1838; and there the Church built its first temple and continued to grow in membership from 680 to 17,881.
On July 20, 1831, Smith circulated a written revelation that Independence, Missouri was to be the center place for the city of Zion. Though many of Smith's followers attempted to settle in Missouri throughout the 1830s and Smith himself moved there in 1838, the Church faced political and military opposition from other Missouri settlers. The issue of slavery began to affect the members of the Church. Missouri had been admitted into the United States union as a slave state under the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Mormons immigrating to the state from the anti-slavery northeast were viewed with deep distrust. By 1832 it was rumored that Mormons were inciting slaves to rise up against their masters. The article "Free People of Color" in a Church newspaper was interpreted to threaten the slave system, which was the heart of the whole social structure of the state. After a series of raids on Mormon settlements, the Church formed its own militia to defend its members and the 1838 Mormon War ensued, culminating in believers in the religion being expelled from the state under an Extermination Order signed by the governor of Missouri.
Eventually the Church purchased new lands and established its headquarters in Nauvoo, Illinois, a city they built on drained swampland by the Mississippi River, where Smith served as mayor. There, the Church built a new temple, and thrived. In December of 1840, the affirmative vote of Abraham Lincoln, then serving in the Illinois House of Representatives helped to pass the Nauvoo Charter into law. It gave the city the right to establish the University of Nauvoo, the Nauvoo Legion, a municipal court with power to issue writs of habeas corpus, and a city council with a mayor that could serve as associate justices and chief justice, etc. At its peak, the population of Nauvoo reached about 15,000 inhabitants. This exceeded the population of Chicago, which in the year 1840 was 4,470.
On June 7, 1844 an anti-Mormon newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor was published in the city. It negatively depicted the religious and political life of the city and angered the local residents who decried its assertions. On Monday, June 10 after 14 hours of deliberation the city council resolved that the Nauvoo Expositor and its printing office were a “disturber of the peace”, “a public nuisance”, and should be “removed without delay”. The Nauvoo Legion destroyed the press, type and paper in two hours. Although the event pleased local residents, it angered anti-Mormon sentiments in surrounding communities. Legal charges, arrest warrants, and the incarceration of Joseph Smith resulted.
Under the promised protection of Thomas Ford, the Governor of the State, Joseph went to the city of Carthage, the county seat of Hancock County, about 30 miles southeast of Nauvoo. While awaiting trial, he and his brother Hyrum, who was serving as assistant president and patriarch of the Church, were held in the local jail. On June 27, 1844 at 5:00 pm in spite of the promised protection by Governor Ford, an armed mob was allowed to enter the jail and shoot, killing both Joseph and Hyrum, while wounding Dr. Willard Richards and John Taylor who were there visiting them. Two years later the Mormons were forcibly expelled from the state. (On March 24, 2004 the legislature of the State of Illinois issued a formal expression of regret to the Church for the expulsion and delivered it at a press conference at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah on April 7, 2004)
After the murder of the Smiths, a succession crisis ensued whereby a number of Church leaders campaigned to lead the Church. The majority of adherents voted to accept the succession claims presented by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, led by Brigham Young. Their claim was based on a March 1844 meeting wherein Joseph committed the "keys of the kingdom" to the twelve apostles with Young as their leader.
In 1850, the U.S. Congress dismissed the State of Deseret plan and instead established a much smaller territory around the Great Salt Lake named the Territory of Utah. Young incorporated The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a legal entity under the laws of the territory. He initially governed his followers as a theocratic leader serving in both political and religious positions. He openly encouraged the practice of plural marriage. When this practice became known in Washington, D.C., the United States sent federal troops there in 1857, causing a confrontation known as the Utah War which lasted from May 1857 until July 1858. In the end, negotiations between the United States and the Latter-day Saint hierarchy resulted in a full pardon for the Mormons, the transfer of Utah's governorship from Church President Brigham Young to non-Mormon Alfred Cumming, and the peaceful entrance of the army into Utah. Young still wielded significant political power as President of the Church.
Young was followed by other powerful members, who defiantly followed the dictates of their faith in the face of U.S. efforts to outlaw Mormon polygamous marriages. As the political power of the U.S. moved west, the political and legal wrangling over the polygamy issue escalated. Finally, after the Church lost its case on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1890, Church president Wilford Woodruff (successor to John Taylor) issued a Manifesto that officially suspended the practice. Relations with the United States markedly improved after 1890, and especially after 1904, when Church president Joseph F. Smith disavowed polygamy before the United States Congress and issued a "Second Manifesto" calling for all illegal marriages in the Church to cease. Although both these statements were issued it has been estimated that 150 polygamous marriages had been done by the Church per year from 1890 to 1904, many of which were performed in Mexico to alleviate the legal issues associated with conducting polygamous marriages in the United States. Eventually, the Church adopted a policy of excommunicating its members found practicing polygamy, and today seeks to actively distance itself from “fundamentalist” groups still practicing polygamy.
The Church has played, at times, a prominent role in political matters, including opposition to MX Peacekeeper missile bases in Utah and Nevada, opposing the Equal Rights Amendment, opposing legalized gambling, support of bans on same-sex marriage, and opposition to legalized physician-assisted death. Apart from issues that it considers to be ones of morality, however, the Church maintains a position of political neutrality.
The LDS Church has some teachings in common with Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions, such as a belief that Jesus is the Divine Son of God the Father, delivered to the earth by the virgin Mary. The Church teaches that Jesus lived a sinless life, and that his suffering at Gethsemane, the shedding of his blood, his crucifixion, his death and resurrection were sufficient to satisfy the demands of eternal justice and make an infinite atonement for the sins of all humanity. It teaches a belief in Jesus' literal bodily resurrection, and that he currently sits at the right hand of God the Father. The Church's core teachings, circa 1842, are discussed in Articles of Faith (Latter Day Saints), and delineate the "first principles and ordinances of the gospel" as faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sin, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. However, there are also significant differences. Perhaps the most distinct difference between the LDS Church and other faiths is the belief that its founder Joseph Smith, Jr. was a prophet who received a visitation from God the Father and Jesus Christ (known as the First Vision), and was directed to translate what became known as the Book of Mormon, a volume of scripture that testifies that Jesus is the Christ and stands with the Bible to testify of this truth.
The Church follows what it understands to be the teachings of Jesus, both in the Bible and in other scriptures, such as the Book of Mormon. The Church also teaches that Jesus is the LORD Jehovah of the Old Testament, and the Holy One of Israel. Because he has the "Divine Investiture of Authority" from the Father, the Church teaches that Jesus Christ often speaks in the scriptures as though he were God the Father, because in so doing he is representing the Father.
Official Church materials refer to "Heavenly Parents," implying to some the existence of a Heavenly Mother. Belief in such a figure is common among members, and she has been mentioned in meetings by Church officials and in some of the hymns of the Church. However, very little on the subject of a Heavenly Mother has been taught by the Church.
In common with other Restorationist Churches, the Church believes in a Great Apostasy. It teaches that after the death of Jesus and the Twelve Apostles, the priesthood authority was lost and some important doctrinal teachings, including the text of the Bible, were changed from their original form, thus necessitating a Restoration prior to the Second Coming. That restoration, according to Church doctrine, began during the life of Joseph Smith, Jr.
According to Church theology, the restoration began through a series of visions and revelations, including Smith's First Vision in 1820, visits by various angelic messengers including Moroni from whom he received "the everlasting gospel. It is also taught that he was visited by John the Baptist, Moses, Elijah, and the apostles Peter, James and John. Both Smith and Oliver Cowdery testified that these last messengers came to them while they were together and conferred upon them the priesthood authority with its various "keys", so that mankind again possessed the "fullness of the Gospel" with authority to administer in the ordinances thereof. The restoration also included the re-establishment of the Church of Christ on April 6, 1830. The LDS Church teaches that it is the successor of this Church of Christ, that Smith was the successor to Peter, and that the current President of the Church is Smith's modern successor.
Latter-day Saint sacraments are called ordinances, of which there are two types: saving ordinances and non-saving ordinances. All ordinances, whether saving or non-saving, must be performed by a man ordained to the appropriate priesthood office, with the exception of certain parts of the temple Endowment and the initiatory or washings and anointings, in which men and women are separated, and women administer the ordinances for women, and men administer the ordinances for men. However, both men and women must be "set apart", or authorized and "blessed by the laying on of hands" by those who have proper authority before serving as temple ordinance workers.
Saving ordinances are those that are required for salvation or exaltation, and include baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost (confirmation of membership in the Church of Jesus Christ), with the "sacrament" of the Lord's supper, taken each Sunday, to keep in remembrance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and to renew the covenants made at baptism, ordination to an office of the priesthood (for males), the initiatory or washings and anointings, the Endowment, celestial marriage, and family sealings. Each saving ordinance is associated with one or more covenant that the person receiving the ordinance makes with God, and one or more blessing that God promises to the recipient.
The Church teaches that to obtain the highest degree of salvation (referred to as "exaltation" in the celestial kingdom), all people who have lived to the age of eight must participate in each of the saving ordinances. However, the Church teaches that they may be performed for a person either during their lifetime or by proxy after the person has died. Therefore, Church members participate in the saving ordinances on behalf of dead relatives and others whose names have been extracted from historical records. The performance of these proxy ordinances are one of the functions of the Church's temples.
All the saving ordinances are currently open to all worthy Church members of the appropriate age. Prior to 1978, black members were restricted from some of the priesthood ordinances, but this policy was changed in 1978. Celestial marriage is open to one man and one woman at a time, but a widower may enter a second celestial marriage.
Apart from sealings to parents, the Church does not perform saving ordinances for those younger than age eight or for those who have died before the age of eight (when children reach the "age of accountability"), because young children are deemed "alive in Christ" and not responsible for sin. Likewise, the Church teaches that the saving ordinances are not required for persons age eight or older who are "mentally incapable of knowing right and wrong". They are saved by the grace and mercy of Christ without baptism and will inherit the Celestial Kingdom of God.
Non-saving ordinances include the dedication of graves, the dedication of buildings, the prayer circle, the Hosanna shout, shaking the dust from the feet, and various kinds of blessings, including the patriarchal blessing.
During the pre-earth life, Heavenly Father presented a plan to have a Savior make it possible for mankind to be saved. The purpose of an earth life was to give men the opportunity to demonstrate obedience to the commandments of God while outside of His presence. This is the central test of the evolution or eternal progression of man to godhood. Jesus Christ stepped forward as the chosen Savior. However, Lucifer, one of the spirits, proposed a rival plan whereby every soul would be saved, he would receive God's glory, and human agency would be eliminated. When God rejected that plan, the War in Heaven ensued, resulting in Lucifer and one third part of the spirits being cast out and denied ever receiving physical bodies. Lucifer became the devil.
The earth, according to Church teachings, was created by Jehovah, which the Church identifies as the pre-mortal Jesus, and Michael the archangel, who is identified as the pre-mortal Adam. The earth was "organized" from pre-existing matter, as were other planets with their inhabitants. Michael's spirit was placed into his body which was created by God the Father and Jehovah, and became a living soul known as Adam.
The Church teaches that at birth, a pre-existing spirit enters a mortal body. Upon death, the spirit goes to a "spirit world" to await the resurrection of the dead. There, a preliminary judgment, based solely on whether a person has had a baptism by the authority of the priesthood and received their confirmation, either in this life or after death by proxy, places the spirit in either a state of paradise (has completed all the saving ordinances) or spirit prison (those who have not had the saving ordinances). Those in "prison" will be visited by spirits from paradise and given the chance to learn of the teachings of Jesus Christ and to accept the accompanying saving ordinances. The Church teaches that all persons, wicked or righteous, will be resurrected and receive an immortal, physical body. The nature of that body, however, will depend on the result of the Last Judgment, at which Jesus will assign each soul to one of three degrees of glory (heavenly kingdoms): the celestial kingdom in the presence of the Father and the Son for those who accept Jesus Christ and receive all LDS saving ordinances, either as a mortal or by proxy; the terrestrial kingdom, a place of glory in the presence of Christ for righteous persons who refuse to receive the saving ordinances and for those who do not keep the covenants they commit to; and the telestial kingdom for the wicked. A further destination, called outer darkness, is reserved for Satan, his devils, and those mortals who commit the unpardonable sin and thereby become the sons of perdition. Those who are ultimately destined for the telestial kingdom will be those who suffer for their sins in hell; however, these persons remain in hell only the 1000 years during the millennial reign of Christ, after which they will exit hell and be resurrected with an immortal body into a state of peace.
Those in the Celestial Kingdom will be allowed to continue to progress and become joint heirs with Jesus Christ; but only individuals that are in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom will eventually be enabled in eternity to become gods and goddesses and participate in the eternal creative process of having spirit children.
According to teachings in the Book of Mormon, the Americas are a special location reserved by God for those who love freedom and freedom of religion. According to Joseph Smith, what is now Jackson County, Missouri was the location of the Garden of Eden and will be the location of the future New Jerusalem, and God has led numerous groups to the western hemisphere in search of freedom, including several groups of ancestors to the Native Americans whose stories are told in the Book of Mormon.
The Church also teaches an expansive view of God's covenant with Abraham, which Joseph Smith taught extends not just to Jews, but to the ancient Church, and Latter-day Saints as well, who in most cases are declared by their patriarchal blessings to be either literal descendants of Abraham, or adopted into the family of Abraham through one of the tribes of Israel, often the Tribe of Ephraim. Native Americans are sometimes declared to be descended from the Tribe of Manasseh based on the teachings of the Book of Mormon that some descendants of this tribe, the family of Lehi, left Jerusalem and crossed the ocean in a ship about 600 B.C. and landed in what today is called the Americas.
The Church teaches that in the future, the Second Coming of Jesus will occur, followed by a thousand years of peace. Distinctive within Latter-day millennialism, however, is the idea that Jesus will reign "personally upon the earth" from two locations: one that is presently within the United States, and Jerusalem in Old Canaan to direct the worship and government or governments that will exist.. As the earth transitions into the Millennial period, only those good and honorable people who stand to inherit the celestial kingdom or the terrestrial kingdom will continue on the earth. During the millennium the Latter-day Saints will continue to proselytize among the living and perform ordinances for the dead. After the millennium will come a final great confrontation of good versus evil, and then the Last Judgment.
The LDS Church has been characterized as a family-centered religion. The Church teaches that every being that lived upon the earth initially had a spirit body and that all were born to Heavenly Parents in a pre-mortal existence. The Church teaches that on earth, families may be "sealed"—meaning that they are eternally bound as husband–wife, parents–child—and that these bonds will continue after death. Sealings can also include deceased ancestors, providing much of the Church's rationale for its extensive family history activities. Members tend more often to be married, and have families with more children, than members of other Christian traditions .
The Church also teaches that each person's gender is eternal and that gender roles are authorized by God: in general, men are to preside over and provide for their families and women are to nurture children. The Church teaches that "By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners." Some have characterized this view of the man-woman relationship as "equal but different". Nevertheless, LDS women in the United States work outside the home in about the same percentage as other American women. The Church teaches that gender is inherently linked to sex, but the Church has no official policy on the status of intersex persons. Transgender persons are accepted in the Church and may be baptized, but may not receive the priesthood or enter the temple if they are considering or have undergone elective sex reassignment surgery.
The status of women in Church leadership has remained largely unchanged since the early 1900s. Although they are not ordained to the priesthood, preaching and instruction by women is an integral part of weekly Latter-day Saint worship. Certain leadership positions are filled only by women, and in some of the Church's auxiliary organizations women may preside over men, such as in the Primary, in welfare programs, on activities committees, and at a Family History Library. Since the 1840s, women have officiated in certain ordinances that take place inside temples.
The Church encourages members to enter a celestial marriage, the only form of marriage recognized by the Church as a sacrament and "the only due and proper way of joining husband and wife". For purposes of the law of chastity, however, the Church presently recognizes only civil unions that are considered "legal and lawful" by the government where it takes place, with certain exceptions including same-sex marriage, polygamous marriage, common law marriage, and other types of non-ceremonial marriages in non-common law countries.
In countries where celestial marriage is not recognized by the government, it must be preceded by a civil marriage. The Church's teachings are ambiguous about the scope of allowable sexual behavior between legally married couples. Some Church leaders have taught that oral sex and anal sex are sinful, even as part of a marriage relationship, but there are no policies on these issues that are enforced in the Church. Sexual activity outside of marriage may result in Church discipline, including a possible excommunication, in which a member loses his or her Church membership and privileges but may continue to attend meetings. In most instances, the Church strongly discourages surgical sterilization as an elective form of birth control among married couples.
LGBT members of the Church are expected to keep the law of chastity. If they do, they can “go forward as do all other members of the Church.” If they desire to enter into a heterosexual marriage, they should first learn to deal with their homosexual feelings; otherwise, they must remain celibate. Gay or lesbian sex, in any form, whether the participants are married or not, may be grounds for excommunication.
The Church has supported a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and polygamous marriage in the United States and has stated that it "favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship." The Church's position is that government recognition of such rights will "undermine the divinely created institution of the family".
The Church holds its normal worship services on Sunday during a three-hour block composed of three meetings: sacrament meeting, which features the Church's weekly sacrament (Eucharist) ritual and sermons by various selected members; Sunday School, featuring a lesson on various scriptural topics; and finally, each participant is assigned a meeting based on their age and sex, which could include a meeting of priesthood holders for males aged 12 and up separated into age-specific quorums, Relief Society for adult women, and a meeting of the Young Women Organization for adolescent females. During the second and third hours, children participate in activities of the Primary. Periodically, members participate in local, regional, and general Church-wide conferences in lieu of Sunday services. The general conference is broadcast semi-annually (April and October) from Salt Lake City, Utah. The 2008 general conference was broadcast live through the Internet April 5 and 6 on www.lds.org and was of particular significance in that a new president of the Church was presented for a sustaining vote, in what is called a Solemn assembly.
The Church also provides ritual services at its temples, which are open only to members of the appropriate age who meet standards of orthodoxy and worthiness. Members are encouraged to attend the temples regularly, where they usually participate in the Endowment, sealing, washing and anointing, and other ordinances, most often by proxy for the dead.
Members are expected to donate their time, money, and talents to the Church, as necessity and responsibility dictates. To be in good standing with the Church, and to enter the Church's temples, Church members are asked to tithe their income to the Church, which is usually interpreted as 10% of income. In addition, members are asked to donate monthly charitable "fast offerings" (at least the equivalent cost of two meals), which are used to help the needy, regardless of whether or not they are Church members, and are encouraged to make other humanitarian donations when necessary.
In addition to attending the weekly three-hour Church services, members are usually given "callings" or assignments in the Church, and often attend various other meetings or activities throughout the week relating to that calling. Members in good standing are assigned to visit the homes of other members monthly as "home teachers" (men) or "visiting teachers" (women). Members are also expected to engage in missionary work, family history research, to conduct a Family Home Evening weekly with their family, and to attend the temple regularly. Church members are encouraged to live self-sufficiently and avoid unnecessary debt. All male members are expected to serve a two-year mission at the age of 19, though there are high standards of worthiness and physical and mental health that prohibit many men from serving. Women may optionally serve a mission if they are over the age of 21 and not married, as may older married couples. Women serve a mission for a period of only eighteen months compared to two years for men.
Good standing in the Church requires that members follow the "Word of Wisdom (a health code given by Joseph Smith which the Church interprets as requiring abstinence from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, coffee, black tea, and recreational drugs). Members must also obey the law of chastity (the Church's code for modesty and allowable forms of sexuality), and are strongly counseled against choosing an elective abortion, except in the cases of a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, a pregnancy that seriously jeopardizes the life or health of the mother, or a pregnancy where a physician determines that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth. In general, members must obey the law of the country in which they live and visit, although there have been notable exceptions. The Church discourages gambling in all forms, including lotteries.
Church members who commit what are considered serious violations of the standards of the Church (defined as, without limitation, "attempted murder, rape, sexual abuse, spouse abuse, intentional serious physical injury of others, adultery, fornication, homosexual relations, deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, robbery, burglary, theft, embezzlement, sale of illegal drugs, fraud, perjury, and false swearing) may be subject to Church disciplinary action, including disfellowshipment or even excommunication, although excommunication is generally reserved for the more extreme of the above transgressions. Such individuals are encouraged to continue attending Church services, but are not permitted to hold Church responsibilities or offer public prayer at any Church meeting (although personal prayer is encouraged); excommunicated members are also prohibited from paying tithing or fast offerings. Other members are frequently unaware of the status of such individuals. Everyone is welcome to attend the public meetings of the Church, whether or not they adhere to the Church's lifestyle code.
The Church's canon of sacred texts consists of the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. These are more commonly referred to as the Church's Standard Works. Though not canonical, many members of the Church also accept the teachings and pronouncements of the Church's general authorities—and in particular those of the President of the Church—as doctrine, and complementing the Standard Works.
The Church accepts the Holy Bible as the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. Joseph Smith wrote, "I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers". The LDS Church uses the King James Version (KJV) or translation for its English speaking members and other translations to accommodate alternative languages. Joseph Smith did work on his own translation, but it is only used in conjunction with the KJV. Two extracts of his translation can be found in the Pearl of Great Price, called the Book of Moses and Joseph Smith—Matthew. The Church regards parts of the Apocrypha, the writings of some Protestant Reformers and non-Christian religious leaders, and the non-religious writings of some philosophers to be inspired, though not canonical.
The Church's most distinctive scripture, the Book of Mormon, was published by founder Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1830. It is believed to be "another testament of Jesus Christ" and bears that subtitle as of 1982. Smith stated that he translated the Book of Mormon from metal plates that had "the appearance of gold" that he found buried near his home. His history records:
At length the time arrived for obtaining the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate. On the 22nd day of September 1827, having gone as usual at the end of another year to the place where they were deposited, the same heavenly messenger delivered them up to me with this charge: that I should be responsible for them; that if I should let them go carelessly, or through any neglect of mine, I should be cut off; but that if I would use all my endeavors to preserve them, until he, the messenger, should call for them, they should be protected.
As of September 2007, the full text of the Book or Mormon had been translated and published in 77 languages, and selections in an additional 28 for a total of 105 languages. The introduction printed with the book says that it is a history of the principal ancestors of the "American Indian" peoples. Much debate has taken place on the subject of whether archeology supports or denies the Book of Mormon's authenticity. The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies at BYU regularly publishes the observations of dozens of scholars trained in biblical studies, archeology, classics, history, law, linguistics, anthropology, political science, philosophy, Near Eastern studies, literature, and other fields relating to parallels with the Book of Mormon and the ancient world.
The Church's Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of modern revelations, declarations, and teachings, primarily written by Joseph Smith. The Pearl of Great Price consists of five separate books, including two portions of Joseph Smith's translation of the Bible. These five books are Selections from the Book of Moses (corresponding to a portion of the Old Testament), the Book of Abraham (Smith's translation of an Egyptian papyrus, which includes an account of the creation), Joseph Smith—Matthew (corresponding to a section of the New Testament), Joseph Smith—History (an excerpt from Smith's 1838 autobiographical writings), and the Articles of Faith (an excerpt of one of Smith's 1842 letters describing Church beliefs).
The Church has organized several tax-exempt corporations to assist with the transfer of money and capital. These include the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, organized in 1916 under the laws of the state of Utah to acquire, hold, and dispose of real property. In 1923, the Church incorporated the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah to receive and manage money and Church donations. In 1997, the Church incorporated Intellectual Reserve, Inc. to hold all the Church's copyrights, trademarks, and other intellectual property. The Church also holds several non-tax-exempt corporations. See Finances of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Church reports a worldwide membership of 13 million with approximately 6.7 million residing outside the United States. According to these statistics it is the fourth largest religious body in the United States. The Church membership report includes all baptized members and also "children of record"—unbaptized children under the age of nine. (Children are not baptized before the age of eight.) Although the Church does not release attendance figures to the public, researchers estimate that actual attendance at weekly LDS worship services globally is around 4 million. Members living in the U.S. and Canada constitute 47% of membership, Latin America 36%, and members in the rest of the world 17%. A Survey by the City College of New York in 2001 extrapolated that there were 2,787,000 self-identified LDS adults in the United States in 2001, 1.3% of the US population, making the LDS Church the 10th-largest religious body in their phone survey of over 50,000 households.One source cites it is the second fastest growing religion in the United States with a 1.63 percent annual growth rate. These figures are disputed. The Salt Lake Tribune published an article claiming that the LDS Church loses as many converts as it gains, making its net growth zero percent.
Church congregations are generally organized geographically, unlike other mainstream Christian denominations. For Sunday services, the Church is grouped into either larger (~200 to ~400 people) congregations known as wards, or smaller congregations known as branches. These neighborhood congregations meet in meetinghouses, also referred to as "chapels" or "stake centers" or just ward buildings, located on property most often owned by the Church. In some geographic areas, rental property may be used as a meetinghouse. Although the building may sometimes be referred to as a "chapel", the room used as a chapel for religious services is actually only one component of the standard meetinghouse. The Church's online "Meetinghouse Locator" can be used to find locations of Church buildings and meeting times.
The leader of the Church is termed President, and Church members revere him as a prophet, seer, and revelator. The prophet is believed to hold the same divine calling as biblical prophets, and his responsibility is primarily over the Church as a whole. His stewardship extends over the whole human family on earth as the Lord's mouthpiece. He is entitled to guide the Church through revelation, acting as God's spokesman. The President of the Church serves as such until death. The current president is Thomas S. Monson.
The First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Presiding Bishopric and the First and Second Quorums of the Seventy are all referred to as general authorities because they direct the work of the entire Church throughout the world. The members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are accepted by the Church as prophets, seers, and revelators.
Other Church authorities are referred to as area authorities and local authorities and include all other Quorums of the Seventy, mission presidents, stake presidents, bishops, and other priesthood quorum presidents.
The Church has no salaried ministry; however, general authorities who demonstrate need receive stipends from the Church, using income from Church-owned investments. All area and local authorities are unpaid and continue in their normal occupations while serving in leadership positions.
Although the Church had a paid local clergy in the 1800s, local and regional priesthood leaders currently serve in a voluntary capacity. Non-clerical Church employees, general authorities (who serve life or five-year terms), and mission presidents are paid a stipend from Church funds and provided other benefits. A general missionary fund covers the basic living expenses of single LDS missionaries who are unable to pay their own way. Missionaries and their families are asked to contribute to this fund, and in the United States the missionary's congregation of origin is ultimately responsible to satisfy the monthly obligation to the general fund. Members volunteer general custodial work for local Church facilities.
The Church has a hierarchical structure, with clearly defined stewardships or realms of responsibility for the various offices. Those who hold such offices do not elect to do so but are "called" by someone of a higher authority in the Church; all are laity and are not paid for their service.
The priesthood in the LDS Church is divided into two levels, the lower priesthood or Aaronic Priesthood, and the higher priesthood or Melchizedek Priesthood. Within each level there are various offices. The Aaronic Priesthood offices include Deacon, Teacher, Priest, and Bishop. The Melchizedek priesthood offices include Elder, High Priest, Patriarch, Seventy, and Apostle.
Under the leadership of the priesthood hierarchy are five auxiliary organizations that fill various roles in the Church: Relief Society, Young Men Organization, Young Women Organization, Primary, and Sunday School.
The Relief Society is the Church's women's organization. Founded in 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois, and with the motto "Charity Never Faileth", the organization today includes more than 5 million women in over 165 countries. Every Latter-day Saint woman age 18 or older is a member of the Relief Society.
The Young Men and Young Women organizations are composed of adolescents aged 12 to 17. Members often have an additional meeting during the week (referred to as Mutual), which can involve an activity, game, service project, or instruction. The young men and women may meet separately or take part in combined activities. In the United States and Canada, the young men participate in Scouting, including efforts to earn the Boy Scouts religious award for Church members, "On my Honor." Young men throughout the Church also work toward earning the Church's "Duty to God" award. Young women participate in a comparable program called Personal Progress. Both the young men and the young women are encouraged to live by the standards outlined in the Church's "For the Strength of Youth" booklet.
The Primary is an organization for children up to age 11, founded in 1878. It provides classes, music, and activities for children during the second and third hours of the Sunday meeting schedule.
The LDS Sunday School organization provides classes for adolescents and adults during the second hour of the Sunday meeting schedule. It provides a variety of classes, including introductory classes for new members and nonmembers, and gospel doctrine classes for more experienced members. Adolescents are grouped into classes by age.
There are 347 missions and approximately 53,000 full time proselytizing missionaries serving throughout the world. In addition, about 3,552 missionaries are on special assignment missions, serving as health care specialists, doctors, craftsmen, artisans, construction supervisors, agricultural experts and educators for developing countries and educators, family history researchers and leadership trainers.
In June 2007, the Church marked the induction of its one millionth missionary since 1830.
Latter-day Saints believe in the value of education. Joseph Smith taught that "the glory of God is intelligence. Accordingly, the Church maintains Brigham Young University, Brigham Young University–Idaho (formerly Ricks College), Brigham Young University Hawaii, and LDS Business College.
The Church also has religious education programs.The Seminary and Institute programs are part of the Church Educational System: Seminary is a program for secondary school students held daily in conjunction with the school year. The Institute of Religion and the LDS Student Association programs serve young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 and those enrolled in post-secondary education institutions with Church-owned buildings near university and college campuses designated for the purpose of religious education and cultural socialization.
In addition, the Church sponsors a low-interest educational loan program known as the Perpetual Education Fund. This fund is designed to benefit young men and women from less developed parts of the world who have served a mission, returned to their home, and need further education to become productive citizens in their respective countries. As they finish their education and enter the work force, they then are able to pay back the funds provided so that other individuals can attend both vocational technical schools and university.
Members of the Church donate fast offerings on Fast Sunday and at other times for the purpose of helping those who are poor or financially struggling. The bishop will meet with a family, or the head(s) of a family to determine whether and how much help they need from the Church. The Church strongly encourages its members to be self-reliant, so these meetings will usually include a plan on how to get the family back on its own feet. This welfare program is not only available to members of the Church, but to any needy members of the community. In fact, the Church has a very broad humanitarian effort, which helps not only those who are going through financial struggles, but also victims of natural disasters or other devastating events. All of these services are paid for by charitable donations and are run by volunteer workers. $104.9 million of aid was given in 2007. 3,974 welfare service missionaries are currently serving in the Church.
The Church has not released Church-wide financial statements since 1959, but in 1997 Time Magazine called it one of the world's wealthiest Churches per capita. Its for-profit, non-profit, and educational subsidiary entities are audited by an independent accounting firm: as of 2007, Deloitte & Touche. The Church receives most of its money from tithes (ten percent of a member's income) and fast offerings (money given to the Church to assist individuals in need). About ten percent of its funding also comes from income on investments and real estate holdings.
The Church uses its funds to construct and maintain buildings and other facilities; to provide social welfare and relief; and to support missionary, educational, and other Church-sponsored programs. The Church has also invested in business and real estate ventures such as Bonneville International, Deseret Book Company, and cattle ranches in Utah, Florida, and Canada.
Meetings and outreach programs are held regularly and have become part of the Latter-day Saint culture.
In addition to these regularly scheduled meetings, additional meetings are frequently held at the meetinghouse. Auxiliary officers may conduct leadership meetings or host training sessions and classes. The ward or branch community may schedule social activities at the meetinghouse, including dances, dinners, holiday parties and musical presentations. Mutual (a group for youth of the Church) is held at the meetinghouse once a week, where the youth participate in activities and work on Duty to God, scouting, or Personal Progress. Other popular activities are basketball, family history conferences, youth and singles conferences, dances and various personal improvement classes. Church members may also reserve the building for personal or family use, to accommodate such events as music recitals, family reunions, weddings and receptions, birthdays, or funerals.