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The Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the most-recognized architectural symbol of Mormonism
The Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the most-recognized architectural symbol of Mormonism

Mormon is a term used to refer to adherents of the Latter Day Saint movement, and most commonly to the movement's original and largest group, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The term is derived from the Book of Mormon, a religious text that Joseph Smith, Jr. translated from ancient plates containing a history of the early inhabitants of the Americas that was compiled by a prophet called Mormon. Although many people identify the Latter Day Saint movement as a denomination of Protestantism, Mormons do not consider themselves to be Protestants and do not recognize themselves as part of any larger branch of Christianity, but do consider themselves Christians.

Origin of the term "Mormon"

The term Mormon was first used in modern times in the 1830s as a pejorative to describe those who believed that Joseph Smith, Jr. had been called as a prophet of God, and who accepted the Book of Mormon as scripture.

According to Latter-day Saint theology, the term Mormon also refers to a prophet who lived in the Americas in the 4th century A.D. He was called of God to abridge and compile the records of his people and their dealings with God into a single book. This book is now known as the Book of Mormon. After Mormon's death, his son Moroni witnessed the complete destruction of his people and buried the record compiled by his father in a hill in what is now upstate New York. This same Moroni, more than 1400 years later, was sent by God as a messenger to Smith who went to the place where the record was buried, and with a great deal of help from God, Smith translated the record into English. After Smith was murdered in 1844 at the hands of a mob in Carthage, Illinois jail, the largest body of Latter-day Saints followed Brigham Young, who eventually became President of his denomination, in an exodus to the Salt Lake Valley, arriving there in July of 1847. Smaller groups of Saints followed other claimants to the church presidency, some staying behind in Nauvoo, Illinois, and others dispersing to separate locations.

The term Mormon continues to be used to refer to members of this group that followed Brigham Young, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but not to related smaller denominations that separated from this group over issues such as polygamy. Individual leaders within the hierarchy of the LDS Church have sometimes made explicit effort to reject the use of the term "Mormon," as it does not include a reference to Jesus, whom the church asserts to be its central figure. As a general policy, however, while the church prefers the use of its full name, use of the term LDS or Mormon is not considered offensive or incorrect.

Claims for exclusivity

By the 1970s, "Mormon" had become so common that the LDS Church began to use the term in its radio and television Public Service Announcements which ended: "A message from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: the Mormons." More recently the organization has asked the media to use the church's complete name and to follow any second reference with the name "The Church of Jesus Christ."

Claims for exclusivity of usage are primarily to avoid confusion between the LDS Church and "Mormon Fundamentalist" groups. LDS Church officials state that referring to organizations or groups outside of the LDS Church (especially those that practice plural marriage) as "Mormon," " Mormon fundamentalist," or "Mormon dissident" is a misunderstanding of Mormon theology, in particular the principles of continuous revelation and Priesthood authority. In 1998, the current president of the LDS Church, Gordon B. Hinckley, said:

"I wish to state categorically that this Church has nothing whatsoever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church. Most of them have never been members. They are in violation of the civil law . . . If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose. Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this Church."

Sometimes Restorationist or Restoration Movement are used as umbrella terms for those derived from the Campbellites or Stone-Campbell churches, for example, the Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ. Mormons, however, are not a break-off group of the Campbellites. While they share some beliefs, such as the idea of a restoration, they differ in their beliefs about it. Most importantly, Mormons believe that the Restoration in question has already happened: The original church of Jesus Christ, known as the primitive church by historians, is believed by adherents to have been restored through Joseph Smith, the first Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are some general similarities to Campbellite teachings, and many of Mormonism's first adherents (including Sidney Rigdon) were previously Campbellites. But the Book of Mormon, the book of Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price separate Mormon doctrine from any other Restorationist faiths.

Scholarly usage

Some scholars, such as J. Gordon Melton, in his Encyclopedia of American Religion, subdivide the Mormons into Utah Mormons and Missouri Mormons.

In this scheme, the Utah Mormon group includes all the organizations descending from those Mormons who followed Brigham Young to what is now Utah. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is by far the largest of these groups, and the only group to initially reside in Utah. The Missouri Mormons group includes those Mormons who did not travel to Utah, and the organizations formed from them — the Community of Christ, Church of Christ (Temple Lot), Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, etc.

In its October Conference of 1890, the LDS Church declared that it would discontinue the practice of plural marriage. The policy was accepted by unanimous vote of those in attendance. Nearly 20 years later, however, individuals surfaced who said that polygamy was a “fundamental” belief of Mormonism and could not be discarded. They formed several small congregations and communities advocating the necessity of polygamy and other doctrinal differences with the LDS Church. While these smaller groups have memberships in the hundreds or thousands, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now reports a worldwide membership of over 12.5 million . Due to heavy media focus on these fractional bodies, however, misidentification of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with these polygamous groups is not uncommon. These groups include the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Kingston clan, the True & Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days and a few others. Most of these groups have headquarters in Utah, with communities in Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, British Columbia, Alberta, Mexico and Great Britain. Additionally, several dozen "fundamentalists" claim affiliation with no group other than their own family.

The terms "Utah Mormon" and "Missouri Mormon" are problematic because the majority of each of these branches' members no longer live in either of these states. Although a majority of Utahns are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the LDS Church has a large membership in other states, most notably Arizona, California, Idaho and Nevada, and the majority of the church's membership today resides outside of the United States. Nor are all "Missouri Mormons" based in Missouri. Notable exceptions include the Pennsylvania-based Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite) which considers Sidney Rigdon Joseph Smith's rightful successor and the Wisconsin-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite) which considers James J. Strang Smith's rightful successor.

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

Additionally, "Utah Mormon" is often used as a derisive term among the LDS themselves. A "Utah Mormon" is one who outwardly lives every tenet of the faith without maintaining a deep spiritual conviction.

Distinctions from other religious groups

Despite some misconceptions over similar nicknames and stereotypes, Mormons are not the same religious group as Quakers (members of the Religious Society of Friends), Mennonites, or Amish, nor are they Jehovah's Witnesses. Mormons originated separately from these groups and are distinct in culture, practice, and theology.

One source of confusion in some regions comes from a mistranslation in the film Witness (starring Harrison Ford) into Spanish, French, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, and Italian. "Amish" was translated incorrectly to "Mormon." How this happened with different translators into different languages is not clear, but demonstrates a general misunderstanding about the identity of the Amish, the Mormons, or both.

Basic beliefs

Additional details regarding basic beliefs of Mormons can be found on the LDS Church's official website,, or the LDS Church's site designed for "non-members,"

When Joseph Smith was asked about the basic beliefs of Mormonism, he summarized the teachings and doctrines in 13 points, known today as The Articles of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Articles of Faith are:

  1. We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
  2. We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.
  3. We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
  4. We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
  5. We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
  6. We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.
  7. We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.
  8. We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
  9. We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
  10. We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.
  11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
  12. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
  13. We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

History of the Church, Vol. 4, pp. 535-541

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