The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS Church or, informally, the Mormon Church) is a Christian restorationist church that is considered by its followers to be the restoration of the original church founded by Jesus Christ. The church is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, and has established congregations (called wards or branches) and built temples worldwide. According to the church, it has over 74,000 missionaries[4] and a membership of over 15 million.[4] It is ranked by the National Council of Churches as the fourth-largest Christian denomination in the United States.[7] It is the largest denomination in the Latter Day Saint movement founded by Joseph Smith during the period of religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening.

Adherents, often referred to as "Latter-day Saints", or, less formally, "Mormons", view faith in Jesus Christ and his atonement as the central tenet of their religion.[8] LDS theology includes the Christian doctrine of salvation only through Jesus Christ,[9] though LDS doctrines regarding the nature of God and the potential of mankind differ significantly from mainstream Christianity. The church has an open canon which includes four scriptural texts:[10] the Bible (both Old and New Testaments), the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Other than the Bible, the majority of the LDS canon constitutes revelation spoken by Joseph Smith and recorded by his scribes which includes commentary and exegesis about the Bible, texts described as lost parts of the Bible, and other works believed to be written by ancient prophets.

Under the doctrine of continuing revelation, Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus Christ, under the direction of God the Father, leads the church by revealing his will to its president, whom adherents regard as a modern-day "prophet, seer, and revelator". The current president is Thomas S. Monson. Individual members believe that they can also receive personal revelation from God in conducting their lives.[11] The president heads a hierarchical structure with various levels reaching down to local congregations. Bishops, drawn from the laity, lead local congregations. Male members, after reaching age 12, may be ordained to the priesthood, provided they are living the standards of the church. Women do not hold positions within the priesthood, but do occupy leadership roles in church auxiliary organizations.[12]

Both men and women may serve as missionaries, and the church maintains a large missionary program which proselytizes and conducts humanitarian services worldwide. Faithful members adhere to laws regarding sexual purity, health, fasting, and Sabbath observance, and contribute ten percent of their income to the church as a tithe. In addition, the church teaches sacred ordinances through which adherents make covenants with God, including baptism, confirmation, the sacrament (holy communion), endowment, and celestial marriage (marriage blessings which extend beyond mortality)—all of which are of great significance to church members.[13]

History

The history of the LDS Church is typically divided into three broad time periods: (1) the early history during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, which is in common with all Latter Day Saint movement churches; (2) a pioneer era under the leadership of Brigham Young and his 19th-century successors; and (3) a modern era beginning around the turn of the 20th century as Utah achieved statehood.

Beginnings

The LDS Church was formally organized by Joseph Smith on April 6, 1830, in western New York.[14] Initial converts were drawn to the church in part because of the newly published Book of Mormon, a self-described chronicle of indigenous American prophets that Smith said he had translated from golden plates.[15]

Smith intended to establish the New Jerusalem in North America, called Zion.[16] In 1831, the church moved to Kirtland, Ohio (the eastern boundary of Zion),[17] and began establishing an outpost in Jackson County, Missouri (Zion's "center place"), where he planned to eventually move the church headquarters.[18] However, in 1833, Missouri settlers brutally expelled the Latter Day Saints from Jackson County, and the church was unable via a paramilitary expedition to recover the land. Nevertheless, the church flourished in Kirtland as Smith published new revelations and the church built the Kirtland Temple, culminating in a dedication of the building similar to the day of Pentecost. The Kirtland era ended in 1838, after a financial scandal rocked the church and caused widespread defections. Smith regrouped with the remaining church in Far West, Missouri, but tensions soon escalated into violent conflicts with the old Missouri settlers. Believing the Saints to be in insurrection, the Missouri governor ordered that the Saints be "exterminated or driven from the State." In 1839, the Saints converted a swampland on the banks of the Mississippi River into Nauvoo, Illinois, which became the church's new headquarters.

Nauvoo grew rapidly as missionaries sent to Europe and elsewhere gained new converts who then flooded into Nauvoo. Meanwhile, Smith introduced polygamy to his closest associates. He also established ceremonies, which he stated the Lord had revealed to him, to allow righteous people to become gods (joint heirs with Christ, see theosis)[19][20] in the afterlife, and a secular institution to govern the Millennial kingdom. He also introduced the church to a full accounting of his First Vision, in which two heavenly "personages" (God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ) appeared to him at age 14. This vision would come to be regarded by the LDS Church as the most important event in human history since the resurrection of Jesus.[22]

On June 27, 1844, Smith and his brother Hyrum were murdered by a mob in Carthage, Illinois, while being held on charges of treason.[24] Because Hyrum was Joseph's designated successor, their deaths caused a succession crisis, and Brigham Young assumed leadership over the majority of Saints. Young had been a close associate of Smith's and was senior apostle of the Quorum of the Twelve. Other splinter groups followed other leaders in their own interpretation of the Latter Day Saint movement.

Pioneer era

For two years after Smith's death, conflicts escalated between Mormons and other Illinois residents. To prevent war,[25] Smith had predicted that the church would go to the West and be established in the tops of the Rocky Mountains.[26] Brigham Young took Smith's advice and led his followers, known in modern times as the Mormon pioneers, to Nebraska and then in 1847 to what became the Utah Territory.[28] As groups (over 60,000) arrived over a period of years, LDS settlers branched out and colonized a large region now known as the Mormon Corridor.

Young incorporated the LDS Church as a legal entity, and initially governed both the church and the state as a theocratic leader. He also publicized the practice of plural marriage, a form of polygamy.

By 1857, tensions had again escalated between Mormons and other Americans, largely as a result of accusations involving polygamy and the theocratic rule of the Utah Territory by Young. The Utah Mormon War ensued from 1857 to 1858, which resulted in the relatively peaceful invasion of Utah by the United States Army, after which Young agreed to step down from power and be replaced by a non-Mormon territorial governor, Alfred Cumming.[5] Nevertheless, the LDS Church still wielded significant political power in the Utah Territory.[5]

At Young's death in 1877, he was followed by other church presidents, who resisted efforts by the United States Congress to outlaw Mormon polygamous marriages. In 1878, the United States Supreme Court, in Reynolds v. United States, decreed that "religious duty" to engage in plural marriage was not a valid defense to prosecutions for violating state laws against polygamy. Conflict between Mormons and the U.S. government escalated to the point that in 1890, Congress disincorporated the LDS Church and seized most of its assets. Soon thereafter, church president Wilford Woodruff issued a Manifesto that officially suspended the practice.[5] Although this Manifesto did not dissolve existing plural marriages, so that families would not be split apart or damaged, no new polygamous marriages would be performed. Relations with the United States markedly improved after 1890, such that Utah was admitted as a U.S. state in 1896. Relations further improved after 1904, when church president Joseph F. Smith again disavowed polygamy before the United States Congress and issued a "Second Manifesto", calling for all plural marriages in the church to cease, as they were already against church doctrine since Woodruff issued the Manifesto. Eventually, the church adopted a policy of excommunicating its members found practicing polygamy and today actively distances itself from "fundamentalist" groups still practicing polygamy.[5]

Modern times

During the 20th century, the church grew substantially and became an international organization, due in part to the spread of missionaries around the globe. In 2000, the church reported 60,784 missionaries and global church membership stood at just over 11 million. Worldwide membership surpassed 13 million in 2007[5] and reached 14 million in July 2010,[31] with about six million of those within the United States.[5] However, it is estimated based on demographic studies from the early 1990s that only one-third of the total worldwide membership (about 4 million people as of 2005) are considered "active churchgoers."[33] The church cautions against overemphasis of growth statistics for comparison with other churches because relevant factors—including activity rates and death rates, methodology used in registering or counting members, what factors constitute membership, and geographical variations—are rarely accounted for in the comparisons.[5]

The church has become a strong and public champion of the nuclear family and at times played a prominent role in political matters, including opposition to MX Peacekeeper missile bases in Utah and Nevada,[35] the Equal Rights Amendment,[36] legalized gambling,[37] same-sex marriage,[38] and physician-assisted death.[39] Apart from issues that it considers to be ones of morality, however, the church maintains a position of political neutrality, but encourages its members to be politically active, to participate in elections, and to be knowledgeable about current political and social issues within their communities, states, and countries.[40]

A number of official changes have taken place to the organization during the modern era. One significant change was the ordination of men of black African descent to the priesthood in 1978, which reversed a policy originally instituted by Brigham Young in 1852.[42] There are also periodic changes in the structure and organization of the church, mainly to accommodate the organization's growth and increasing international presence. For example, since the early 1900s, the church has instituted a Priesthood Correlation Program to centralize church operations and bring them under a hierarchy of priesthood leaders. During the Great Depression, the church also began operating a church welfare system, and it has conducted numerous humanitarian efforts in cooperation with other religious organizations including Catholic Relief Services and Islamic Relief, as well as secular organizations such as the American Red Cross.

Teachings and practices

Authorized texts

The theology of the LDS Church consists of a combination of biblical doctrines with modern revelations and other commentary by LDS leaders, particularly Joseph Smith. The most authoritative sources of theology are the faith's canon of four religious texts, called the "standard works". Included in the standard works are the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. The Book of Mormon is said by the church to be "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" that Smith translated from buried golden plates. The LDS Church believes that the Angel Moroni told Smith about these golden plates and guided him to find them buried in the Hill Cumorah. The church believes that this Angel Moroni is at least partial fulfilment of Revelation 14:6 in the Bible. The church characterizes the Book of Mormon as "the most correct of any book on earth and the keystone of [the] religion".

The Bible, also part of the church's canon, is believed to be "the word of God as far as it is translated correctly." Most often, the church uses the Authorized King James Version. Sometimes, however, parts of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (corrections and restorations of assertedly damaged or lost passages) are considered authoritative. Some excerpts of Smith's translation have been included in the Pearl of Great Price, which also includes further translations by Smith and church historical items. Other historical items and revelations are found in the Doctrine and Covenants.

Another source of authoritative doctrine is the pronouncements of the current Apostles and members of the First Presidency. The church teaches that the First Presidency (the church's president and his counselors) and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles are prophets[44] and that their teachings are generally given under inspiration from God through the Holy Spirit. Members of the church acknowledge (sustain) them regularly as prophets, seers, and revelators—this is done publicly twice a year at the church's worldwide general conference.[44]

Distinctive doctrines and practices

Several doctrines and practices of the LDS Church are peculiar within Christianity. For example, the Mormon cosmology and plan of salvation include the doctrines of a pre-mortal life, three degrees of heaven, and exaltation. According to these doctrines every human spirit is a literal child of Heavenly Father, and each has the potential to continue to learn, grow, and progress in the eternities, eventually achieving eternal life (which Latter-day Saints view distinct from immortality), which is to become one with God in the same way that Jesus Christ is one with the Father, thus allowing the children of God to become divine beings or "gods" themselves,[7] the LDS view of theosis, also referred to as becoming a "joint-heir with Christ."[45] The process by which this is accomplished is called exaltation, a doctrine which includes the reunification of the mortal family after the resurrection and the ability to have spirit children in the afterlife and inherit a portion of God's kingdom.[45][7] To obtain this state of godhood, the church teaches that one must have faith in Jesus Christ, repent of his or her sins, strive to keep the commandments faithfully, and participate in a sequence of ceremonial covenants called ordinances, which include baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, the endowment, and celestial marriage.[7][7]

This latter ordinance, known as a sealing ceremony, reflects a singular LDS view with respect to families. According to LDS Church theology, men and women may be "sealed" to one another so that their marital bond continues into the eternities.[7] Children may also be sealed to their biological or adoptive parents to form permanent familial bonds, thus allowing all immediate and extended family relations to endure past death.[7] The most significant LDS ordinances may be performed via proxy in behalf of those who have died, such as baptism for the dead. The church teaches that all will have the opportunity to hear and accept or reject the gospel of Jesus Christ and the blessings that come to those who faithfully adhere to it, in this life or the next. Ordinances such as baptisms for the dead, sealings, and endowments are performed in temples that are built and dedicated specifically for these purposes.

The LDS faithful observe a health code called the "Word of Wisdom," in which they abstain from the consumption of alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco.[52] The Word of Wisdom also encourages the use of wholesome herbs and fruits within season, moderate consumption of meat, and consumption of grains.[52]

Latter-day Saints follow a moral code, called the "law of chastity," which prohibits adultery, all homosexual behavior, and any sexual relations outside of marriage.

LDS faithful donate a ten percent tithe on their annual income, which is used to carry out the operations of the church, including construction of temples, meetinghouses and other buildings, as well as other church uses.[53] Faithful members also set aside the first Sunday of each month to abstain from food and drink for at least two consecutive meals, and prayerfully dedicate the fast to a purpose of the individuals' choosing. They donate at least the cost of the two skipped meals as a fast offering, which the church uses to assist the poor and needy and expand its worldwide humanitarian efforts.[54] Members are further instructed to set aside one night a week, typically Monday, for a "Family Home Evening," where they gather together as a family to study gospel principles and participate in wholesome activities.

Missionary service

All LDS young men are expected to serve a two-year, full-time proselytizing mission.[57] Missionaries do not choose where they serve or the language in which they will proselytize, and are expected to fund their missions themselves or with the aid of their families. Prospective male missionaries must be at least 18 years old and no older than 25, not yet married, have completed secondary school, and meet certain criteria for physical fitness and spiritual worthiness. Missionary service is not compulsory, nor is it required for young men to retain their church membership. Unmarried women 19 years and older may also serve as missionaries, generally for a term of 18 months. However, the LDS Church emphasizes that women are not under the same expectation to serve as male members are, and may serve solely as a personal decision. There is no maximum age for missionary service for women.[58] Prior to October 2012, the minimum age for full-time missionary service was generally 19 for men and 21 for women.[59] Retired couples are encouraged to serve missions, and may serve for either 6-, 12-, 18-, or 23-month terms. Unlike younger missionaries, these senior missionaries may serve in non-proselytizing capacities such as humanitarian aid workers or family history specialists.

Comparisons with Christian denominations outside the Latter Day Saint movement

The LDS Church shares various teachings with other branches of Christianity. These include a belief in the Bible (subject to an acknowledgement that it is imperfect), the divinity of Jesus, and his atonement and resurrection. LDS theology also includes belief in the doctrine of salvation through Jesus alone, restorationism,[60] millennialism, continuationism, penal substitution, and a form of apostolic succession. The practices of baptism by immersion and the eucharist (referred to as the sacrament) are also held in common. However, the Catholic Church considers doctrinal differences between the two groups to be so great that it will not accept a prior LDS baptism as evidence of Christian initiation, as it will baptism by other Christian groups, such as the Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches.[61] The LDS Church does not accept baptisms performed in other churches.[62]

Nevertheless, the LDS Church differs from the many other churches within contemporary Christianity, and many people do not accept the church as part of Christianity.[63] The faith itself views other modern Christian faiths as having departed from true Christianity[8] via a general apostasy and maintains that it is a restoration of 1st-century Christianity and the only true and authorized Christian church.[8] Differences between the LDS Church and most of traditional Christianity include disagreement with aspects of the Nicene Creed, belief in a unique theory of human salvation that includes three heavens (referred to as "degrees of glory", its interpretation of I Cor. 15:35 et.seq.),[8] a doctrine of "exaltation" which includes the ability of humans to become gods and goddesses in the afterlife,[45] a dietary code called the Word of Wisdom, and unique ceremonies performed privately in LDS temples, such as the endowment and sealing ceremonies.

Officially, major Christian denominations view the LDS Church as standing apart from creedal Christianity.[8] Leaders of the LDS Church assert that the LDS Church is the only true church and that other churches do not have the authority to act in Jesus' name.[8]

From the perspective of Christians who agree with creeds, the most significant area of departure is the rejection by the LDS Church of certain parts of ecumenical creeds such as the Nicene Creed, which defines the predominant view of the Christian God as a Trinity of three separate persons in "one essence". LDS Church theology includes the belief in a "Godhead" composed of God the Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost as three separate Persons who share a unity of purpose or will; however, they are viewed as three distinct Beings making one Godhead. Other significant differences relate to the church's acceptance of additional scripture, doctrine, and practices beyond what is found in the Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox versions of the Bible.

Comparison with other Latter Day Saint movement faiths

The LDS Church shares a common heritage with a number of smaller faith groups that are collectively called the Latter Day Saint movement. The largest of these smaller groups is the Community of Christ (previously known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), based in Independence, Missouri, followed by the The Church of Jesus Christ, based in Monongahela, Pennsylvania. Like the LDS Church, these faiths believe in Joseph Smith as a prophet and founder of their religion. They also accept the Book of Mormon, and most, but not all, accept at least some version of the Doctrine and Covenants. However, they tend to disagree to varying degrees with the LDS Church concerning doctrine and church leadership.

The main branches of the Latter Day Saint movement resulted from the crisis of succession upon the death of Joseph Smith. Other branches may be considered later offshoots of the LDS Church branch, mainly due to disagreements about plural marriage.

Organization and structure

Name and legal entities

The church teaches that it is a continuation of the Church of Christ established in 1830 by Joseph Smith. This original church underwent several name changes during the 1830s, being called the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church of God,[8] and then in 1834, the name was officially changed to the Church of the Latter Day Saints.[8] In April 1838, the name was officially changed to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.[8] After Smith died, Brigham Young and the largest body of Smith's followers incorporated the LDS Church in 1851 by legislation of the State of Deseret[8] under the name "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints", which included a hyphenated "Latter-day" and a British-style lower-case "d."[8]

In 1887, the LDS Church was legally dissolved in the United States by the Edmunds–Tucker Act because of the church's practice of polygamy. (The Edmunds–Tucker Act was repealed in 1978.) In the United States, the church continues to operate as an unincorporated entity. Accepted informal names for the church include the LDS Church, the Latter-day Saints, and the Mormons. The term Mormon Church is in common use,[76] but the church began discouraging its use in the late 20th century, though takes no issue with the term Mormon itself. The church requests that the official name be used when possible or, if necessary, shortened to "the Church" or "the Church of Jesus Christ".[77]

Tax-exempt corporations of the LDS Church include the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which was organized in 1916 under the laws of the state of Utah to acquire, hold, and dispose of real property; the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which was established in 1923 in Utah to receive and manage money and church donations; and Intellectual Reserve, Inc., which was incorporated in 1997 to hold the church's copyrights, trademarks, and other intellectual property. Non-tax-exempt corporations of the church include Bonneville International and the Deseret News.

Geographic distribution and membership

Church congregations are organized geographically. Members are generally expected to attend the congregation with their assigned geographical area; however, some geographical areas also provide separate congregations for young single adults (between the ages of 18 and 30), single adults aged 31 to 45,[78] or for speakers of alternate languages. For Sunday services, the church is grouped into either larger (~150 to ~400 people) congregations known as wards, or smaller congregations known as branches. 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, of which the church maintains a virtual tour of a typical example and also an online meetinghouse locator which can be used to find the locations and meeting times of its congregations all over the world. Regional church organizations encompassing multiple congregations include stakes, missions, districts, areas, and regions.

2012 Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Survey[79]Mormons (U.S.)U.S. Avg.
Married67%52%
Divorced or separated9%13%
3 or more children at home21%9%
Attendance at religious services (weekly or more)77%39%

The church reports a worldwide membership of 15 million[81] with approximately 8.3 million residing outside the United States, as of December 2011.[82] According to these statistics it is the fourth largest religious body in the United States.[84] The church membership report includes all baptized members and their children. 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.[33] Members living in the U.S. and Canada constitute 46% percent of membership, Latin America 38 percent, and members in the rest of the world 16 percent.[85] The 2012 Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, found that approximately 2 percent of the U.S. adult population self identified as Mormon.[79]

The church continues to seek recognition in regions where it has had little or no influence. On August 30, 2010, church leaders announced that they were making significant progress on "regularized operations for the Church in China."[86]

For a list of notable Latter-day Saints, see List of Latter Day Saints.

Priesthood hierarchy

The LDS Church is organized in a hierarchical priesthood structure administered by men. Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus leads the church through revelation and has chosen a single man, called "the Prophet" or President of the Church, as his spokesman on the earth. The current president is Thomas S. Monson. While there have been exceptions in the past, he and two counselors are normally ordained apostles and form the First Presidency, the presiding body of the church; twelve other apostles form the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.[87] When a president dies, his successor is invariably the most senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve (the one who has been an apostle the longest), who then reconstitutes a new First Presidency.[87] These men, and the other male members of the church-wide leadership (including the first two Quorums of Seventy and the Presiding Bishopric) are called general authorities. They exercise both ecclesiastical and administrative leadership over the church and direct the efforts of regional leaders down to the local level. General authorities and mission presidents work full-time and typically receive stipends from church funds or investments.[10]

At the local level, the church leadership are drawn from the laity and work on a part-time volunteer basis without stipend.[10] Like all members, they are asked to donate a tithe of 10 percent of their income to the church. An exception to that rule is for LDS missionaries who work at the local level and are paid basic living expenses from a fund that receives contributions from their families or home congregations; however, prospective missionaries are encouraged to contribute the cost of their missions to this fund themselves when possible. Members volunteer general custodial work for local church facilities.

All males who are living the standards of the church are generally considered for the priesthood and are ordained to the priesthood as early as age 12. Ordination occurs by a ceremony where hands are laid on the head of the one ordained. The priesthood is divided into an Aaronic priesthood for young men 12 and up and a Melchizedek priesthood for men 18 and up.[10][10]

Programs and auxiliary organizations

Under the leadership of the priesthood hierarchy are five auxiliary organizations that fill various roles in the church: Relief Society (a women's organization),[10] the Young Men and Young Women organizations (for adolescents ages 12 to 18), Primary (an organization for children up to age 12), and Sunday School (which provides a variety of Sunday classes for adolescents and adults). Women serve as presidents and counselors in the presidencies of the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary, while men serve as presidents and counselors of the Young Men and Sunday School.[10] The church also operates several programs and organizations in the fields of proselytizing, education, and church welfare such as LDS Humanitarian Services. Many of these auxiliaries and programs are coordinated by the Priesthood Correlation Program, which is designed to provide a systematic approach to maintain worldwide consistency, orthodoxy, and control of the church's ordinances, doctrines, organizations, meetings, materials, and other programs and activities.

The church operates a Church Educational System which includes Brigham Young University (BYU) (and its associated Jerusalem Center), BYU–Idaho, BYU–Hawaii, and LDS Business College. The church also operates Institutes of Religion near the campuses of many colleges and universities. For high-school aged youth, the church operates a four-year Seminary program, which provides religious classes for students to supplement their secular education. The church also sponsors a low-interest educational loan program known as the Perpetual Education Fund, which provides educational opportunities to students from developing nations.[6]

The church's welfare system, initiated during the Great Depression, provides aid to the poor. It is financed by fast offerings: monthly donations beyond the normal 10 percent tithe, which represents the cost of forgoing two meals on monthly Fast Sundays. Money from the program is used to operate Bishop's storehouses, which package and store food at low cost. Distribution of funds and food is administered by local bishops. The church also distributes money through its LDS Philanthropies division to disaster victims worldwide.

Other church programs and departments include LDS Family Services, which provides assistance with adoption, marital and family counseling, psychotherapy, and addiction counseling; the LDS Church History Department, which collects church history and records; and the Family History Department, which administers the church's large family history efforts, including the world's largest family history library and organization (FamilySearch).[10] The church is also a major sponsor of Scouting programs for boys, particularly in the United States, where it provides more members of the Boy Scouts of America than any other church.[10]

Finances

Although the church has not released church-wide financial statements since 1959, in 1997, Time magazine called it one of the world's wealthiest churches per capita.[11] In a June 2011 cover story, Newsweek stated that the LDS Church "resembles a sanctified multinational corporation—the General Electric of American religion, with global ambitions and an estimated net worth of $30 billion."[96] Its for-profit, non-profit, and educational subsidiary entities are audited by an independent accounting firm: as of 2007, some done by Deloitte & Touche.[11][11] In addition, the church employs an independent audit department that provides its certification at each annual general conference that church contributions are collected and spent in accordance with church policy.[11]

The church receives significant funds from tithes and fast offerings. According to the church, tithing and fast offering money collected are devoted to ecclesiastical purposes and not used in for-profit ventures.

The church has also invested in for-profit business and real estate ventures such as Bonneville International, Deseret Book Company, City Creek Center, and cattle ranches in Utah, Florida, Nebraska, Canada and other locations.[11]

Culture

Due to the differences in lifestyle promoted by church doctrine and history, a distinct culture has grown up around members of the LDS Church. It is primarily concentrated in the Intermountain West, but as membership of the church spreads around the world, many of its more distinctive practices follow, such as adhering to the Word of Wisdom, a health law or code prohibiting the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea, and illegal drugs.[52] As a result of the Word of Wisdom, the culture in areas of the world with a high concentration of LDS tends to be reflected.[11][11]

Meetings and outreach programs are held regularly and have become part of Latter-day Saint culture.

Media and arts

The culture has created substantial business opportunities for independent LDS media. Such communities include cinema, fiction, websites, and graphical art like photography and paintings. The church owns a chain of bookstores called Deseret Book, which provide a channel through which publications are sold. Titles including The Work and the Glory and The Other Side of Heaven have found acceptance both within and outside the church; BYU TV, the church-sponsored television station, also airs on several networks. The church also produces six pageants annually depicting various events of the primitive and modern-day church. Its Easter pageant Jesus the Christ has been identified as the "largest annual outdoor Easter pageant in the world."[105]

No question the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is "having a moment" ... The Twilight vampire novels of Mormon Stephenie Meyer sell tens of millions of copies, Mormon convert Glenn Beck inspires daily devotion and outrage with his radio show, and HBO generated lots of attention with the Big Love finale. Even Broadway has gotten in on the act, giving us The Book of Mormon, a big-budget musical about Mormon missionaries by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Avenue Q writer Robert Lopez that, with 14 nominations, is expected to clean up at the (2011) Tony Awards on June 12.| Newsweek magazine, June 2011[96]

Home and family

In 1995, the church's First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve issued "The Family: A Proclamation to the World", which stresses the importance of the family. The proclamation states that "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children." The document further says that "gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose," that the father and mother have differing but equal roles in raising children, and that successful marriages and families, founded upon the teachings of Jesus Christ, can last eternally.[11] This document is widely cited by LDS members as a statement of principle.[107]

The adult women (members of the church's Relief Society) in a congregation meet at least quarterly for additional instruction and service. The meetings may consist of a service project, conferences, or of various classes being offered.

After interviewing and polling thousands of youth across America, evangelical statistician Christian Smith writes, "in general comparisons among major U.S. religious traditions using a variety of sociological measures of religious vitality and salience .... it is Mormon teenagers who are sociologically faring the best."[108]

Social events and gatherings

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. The church's Young Men and Young Women organizations meet 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 meetinghouses at no cost for weddings, receptions, and funerals.

In the summer, the LDS Church hosts week-long seminars throughout North America known as Especially for Youth (EFY). This program is held Monday through Saturday during the summer months for youth ages 14–18. During this week, youth often spend the night in college campus dorms and the day in various classes taught by adult religious educators, as well as participating in other various activities such as scripture study and dances.

Political involvement

The LDS Church will take no partisan role in politics, stating that it will not "endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms; allow its church buildings, membership lists or other resources to be used for partisan political purposes; attempt to direct its members as to which candidate or party they should give their votes to ... or attempt to direct or dictate to a government leader."[110] While the church takes an apolitical approach to the candidates themselves, it encourages its members to play an active role as responsible citizens in their communities, including becoming informed about issues and voting in elections, and it actively works to counter anti-Mormonism that may come up during political campaigns. A 2012 Pew Center on Religion and Public Life survey indicates that 74 percent of U.S. members lean towards the Republican Party.[111] Some liberal members say they feel that they have to defend their worthiness due to political differences.[112] Referring to the 2012 U.S Republican Presidential Primary, Michael Otterson, the LDS Church's managing director for public affairs stated, "We now have two Latter-day Saints running, and the potential for misunderstanding or missteps is therefore twice what it was before."[113] However, the official church stance on staying out of politics does not include what church leaders deem to be moral issues. It has previously opposed same-sex marriage in California Prop 8, supported a gay rights bill in Salt Lake City which bans discrimination against homosexual persons in housing and employment,[114][115] opposed gambling, opposed storage of nuclear waste in Utah,[13][13] and supported the Utah Compact.

In United States politics, there are 16 members of the church serving in the 114th United States Congress,[13] including the Senate Minority Leader, Harry Reid,[119] and one member serving as a state governor (Gary Herbert, Utah).[119] Church member Mitt Romney was the Republican Party's nominee in the U.S. 2012 presidential election and was defeated by incumbent U.S. President Barack Obama. Jon Huntsman, Jr. also sought the Republican nomination until his withdrawal in early 2012.[120]

Humanitarian services

The LDS Church is widely known for its worldwide humanitarian services.[121][122] The church's welfare and humanitarian efforts are coordinated by LDS Philanthropies (LDSP), a church department under the direction of the Presiding Bishopric. Welfare efforts, originally initiated during the Great Depression, provide aid for the poor, financed by donations from church members. LDSP is also responsible for philanthropic donations to the LDS Church and other affiliated charities, such as the Church History Library, the Church Educational System—which includes Brigham Young University, the Perpetual Education Fund, and the Polynesian Cultural Center—the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and efforts dedicated to providing funds for LDS missionaries and temple construction.[13] Donations are also used to operate bishop's storehouses, which package and store food for the poor at low cost. Distribution of funds and food is administered by local bishops. These local storehouses distribute commodities to the needy as requested by local bishops on a specified form. Bishop's storehouses also provide service opportunities for those receiving assistance and for those desiring to serve missions or to volunteer in the church's welfare program. The day-to-day operations of the storehouses are typically run by senior-aged missionaries as store managers.[13]

The church also distributes money through its Humanitarian Services division to natural disaster victims worldwide.[13] The church's Humanitarian Center, established in 1991, prepares emergency relief supplies for worldwide shipment to disaster victims, works to establish a global sense of self-reliance, and offers service opportunities to both church members and non-members. The emergency relief supplies that the church donates typically include clothing, personal care kits, and medical supplies. According to the LDS Humanitarian Center website, it ships about 12 million pounds of shoes and clothing, one million hygiene kits, and one million pounds of medical supplies per year, to relieve suffering in more than 100 countries.[14] When a disaster strikes, the church works with local government officials and other organizations to determine the immediate needs, and sends the necessary supplies and food to the affected area within hours. Missionaries are then sent to help alleviate other long-term damages by assisting injured persons and reconstructing damaged buildings. The church carries out these efforts without regard to the nationality or religion of the recipients, and 100 percent of the financial contributions donated to the church by members and non-members are used for humanitarian purposes.[14]

The church has been involved in providing relief aid for victims of several disasters in recent years, including Hurricane Katrina,[14][14][14] the 2010 Haiti earthquake,[14] the 2011 Christchurch earthquake,[14] and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.[14] In 2005 the church partnered with Catholic Relief Services to provide aid for struggling families and individuals in Niger,[14] and it has also partnered with Islamic Relief to help victims of flooding in Pakistan.[14] In addition, the church sponsors five global projects (neonatal resuscitation training, clean water projects, wheelchair distribution, vision treatment, and measles vaccinations),[15] and works with local government agencies and other religious and secular organizations such as the American Red Cross and UNICEF to accomplish these needs. In 2003 the church joined Measles Initiative and has committed one million dollars per year to the campaign.[15]

Controversy and criticism

The LDS Church has been subject to criticism and sometimes discrimination since its early years in New York and Pennsylvania. In the late 1820s, criticism centered around the claim by Joseph Smith to have been led to a set of golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was reputedly translated.

In the 1830s, the greatest criticism was for Smith's handling of a banking failure in Kirtland, Ohio, and the LDS Church's political and military power in Missouri, culminating in the 1838 Mormon War. In the 1840s, criticism of the church centered on its theocratic aspirations in Nauvoo, Illinois. Criticism of the practice of plural marriage and other doctrines taught by Smith appeared in the Nauvoo Expositor, which led to a series of events culminating in Smith's murder in 1844.

As the church began openly practicing plural marriage under Brigham Young during the second half of the 19th century, the church became the target of nationwide criticism for that practice, as well as for the church's theocratic aspirations in the Utah Territory. Beginning in 1857, the church also came under significant media criticism after the Mountain Meadows massacre in southern Utah.

Academic critics have questioned the legitimacy of Smith as a prophet as well as the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham. Criticism has expanded to include claims of historical revisionism, homophobia, racism, and sexist policies. Notable 20th-century critics include Jerald and Sandra Tanner and Fawn Brodie. Evangelical Christians continue to argue that Smith was either fraudulent or delusional. Mormon apologetics organizations, such as the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR) and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), have been founded to counter these criticisms. Most of the apologetic work focuses on providing and discussing evidence supporting the claims of Smith and the Book of Mormon, and much of it features criticism of the perceived lack of honesty when it comes to the scholarship of non-Mormon critics. Scholars and authors such as Hugh Nibley, Daniel C. Peterson, Jeff Lindsay, Orson Scott Card, and James E. Talmage are well-known apologists within the church.

In recent years, the Internet has provided a new forum for proponents and critics of religions, including the LDS Church.[15] The church's support in 2008 of California's Proposition 8 sparked heated debate and protest by gay-rights organizations and others.[15][15][15] The church expressed support for a Salt Lake City ordinance protecting members of the LGBT community against discrimination in employment and housing while allowing religious institutions to consider lifestyles in actions such as hiring or providing university accommodations.[15]

Jewish groups criticized the LDS Church in 1995 after discovering that vicarious baptisms for the dead for victims of the Holocaust had been performed by members of the church.[144][15] After that criticism, church leaders put a policy in place to stop the practice, with an exception for baptisms specifically requested or approved by victims' relatives.[145] Jewish organizations again criticized the church in 2002, 2004, 2008, and 2012[16][16] stating that the church failed to honor the 1995 agreement.[145] The LDS Church says it has put institutional safeguards in place to avoid the submission of the names of Holocaust victims not related to Mormon members, but that the sheer number of names submitted makes policing the database of names impractical.[144]

Due to doctrinal differences, the LDS Church is generally considered to be distinct and separate from mainstream Christianity by Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches, which express differences with one another but consider each other's churches as Christian.[16][16] Many have accused the LDS Church of not being a Christian church at all as a result of disagreements with Apostolic succession and the "Great Apostasy", the Nicene Creed, separation of the Godhead and, more so, Mormon cosmology and its Plan of Salvation including the doctrines of pre-mortal life, baptism for the dead, three degrees of heaven, and exaltation.