History of Mormons: Beliefs, Practices, and Contemporary Challenges

Joseph Smith, the first Mormon

The Mormons are a faith community that is based on Christian principles and teachings as well as the revelations of Joseph Smith, its founder. The main stream of Mormons is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. This church has more than 16 million members worldwide. Another Mormon denomination is the Community of Christ, centered in Independence, Missouri, which has about 250 000 members. The religion was officially established in 1830 with the publication of the Book of Mormon.

Today, the LDS Church of Jesus Christ is most widely practiced in the United States, Latin America, Canada, Europe, the Philippines, Africa, and parts of Oceania. While Mormons share many Christian beliefs, they also have their own unique philosophies, values, and rituals. Let's take a look at the history of Mormons.


Mormons identify themselves as followers of Christianity, but many Christian communities do not recognize Mormonism as an official denomination. Believers of this religious group profess a belief in the crucifixion, resurrection, and divinity of Jesus Christ. They claim that after Jesus' death, God sent new prophets and restored the original church to the present day. Mormons accept four major sacred texts: the Christian Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

According to the teachings of the LDS Church, Adam and Eve, who were expelled from the Garden of Eden, lived in Daviess County, Missouri. In Mormonism, there are three levels of heaven, with only those who reach the Celestial Kingdom being able to live in the presence of God. Unlike the Christian concept of the trinity, Mormons believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit represent three separate gods.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, as a prophet. Mormons follow a strict healthy lifestyle that excludes alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea. Family life, good deeds, respect for authority figures, and missionary work are important values in the Mormon faith.

Mormons practice clothing rituals that include wearing special undergarments that have religious significance. This garment, known as "temple garments," is worn by adult church members who make sacred promises to God.

Not all Mormon churches accept the label "Mormon" because the term is sometimes used in a derogatory manner and does not allow for the diversity of beliefs that exist among churches that follow the Book of Mormon and the teachings of Joseph Smith.

Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith, Jr. was born on December 23, 1805, in Vermont. At the age of 14, he claimed to have received a vision from God and Jesus who told him that he should not join any Christian church.

Three years later, Smith claimed to have received a visitation from an angel named Moroni. This angel informed him that he had been chosen to translate the Book of Mormon, a sacred text that Moroni believed was written around the fourth century and named after Moroni's father, Mormon. This text contained information about the ancient American peoples.

Moroni claimed that the book was written on gold plates discovered near Palmyra, New York, where Smith resided. Although the plates were first discovered by him in 1823, he said he was not allowed to retrieve them until 1827. The Book of Mormon he translated was published in 1830.

Smith also said that while he was translating the Book of Mormon, John the Baptist appeared to him and commissioned him to rebuild the church and preach the true gospel. This is where the history of the Mormon church begins.

Death of Joseph Smith

After the publication of the Book of Mormon, Mormonism began to spread and grow rapidly. Smith founded Mormon congregations in Missouri, Ohio, and Illinois.

Many criticized and persecuted Smith for teaching his new ideas. In February 1844, Smith and his brother were imprisoned on charges of treason.

On June 27, 1844, Smith and his brother were murdered in prison by an anti-Mormon mob in Carthage, Illinois.

Brigham Young

After Smith's death, the church divided, and many Mormons followed Brigham Young, who succeeded Smith.

Young led a large group of Illinois Mormons in a quest for religious freedom. In 1847, Young and other pioneers reached the Salt Lake Valley in Utah.

Mormon expansion to the West

In the 1850s, Young organized a mass migration of about 16 000 Mormons from Illinois to Utah. He founded the city of Salt Lake City and served as Utah's first governor.

Young was appointed president of the Church and remained in that position until his death in 1877. Researchers recognize that Young had a significant impact on religious and political beliefs in the western regions of the United States.

Mountain Meadows: Mormon mass murder

The Mountain Meadows Massacre

Despite the move to the relatively isolated region of Utah, tensions between Mormons and other Americans continued to persist.

In September 1857, a Mormon militia attacked and killed about 120 people who were traveling in a wagon from Arkansas. This event became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

To this day, the exact motives for the massacre remain a matter of debate, and some records indicate that Mormon community leaders attempted to cover up the attack.

Researchers have also disagreed on who was directly responsible for the violence. Some blame Brigham Young, while others point to local leaders in southern Utah.

Book of Mormon

Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon supplements the information found in the Bible.

This sacred text describes the lives of ancient prophets who lived in the Americas. It covers events that took place sometime between 2500 B.C. and 400 A.D.

According to the Book of Mormon, some Jews left Jerusalem to escape persecution. They split into two groups, the Nephites and the Lamanites, who later came into conflict with each other. In 428 A.D. the Nephites were defeated. According to the text, the Lamanites, who are generally considered the ancestors of the American Indians, came out victorious.

According to the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ appeared and preached to the Nephites in the Americas after his crucifixion.

The book is made up of several small books, each of which is treated as a different narrative. According to the LDS Church, more than 150 million copies of the Book of Mormon had been distributed by 2011.

Mormon Church

Today, the LDS Church is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is led by a prophet who is also the president of the church for life.

The hierarchy of the church consists of:

  • The first presidency (president and two counselors);
  • A quorum of twelve apostles;
  • The first quorum of the Seventy;
  • Stake Presidency;
  • The bishopric of a parish;
  • Individual Members.

Children in the church are usually baptized at the age of 8 years.

A young man 12 years of age or older may enter the priesthood known as the Aaronic priesthood. Those over the age of 18 may enter the Melchizedek priesthood.

Mormon polygamy

Although the LDS Church officially ended the practice of polygamy in 1890, historically Mormons married more than one wife.

In recent years, the church has recognized that Joseph Smith took as many as 40 wives, including several who were very young, as young as 14 years old.

Today, Mormons disapprove of polygamy and prefer to marry only one partner. However, a small number of fundamentalists who have separated from the official church continue to practice polygamy.

Mormonism Today

In recent years, Mormonism has become part of popular American culture.

In 2012, Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney brought attention to the religion and the history of Mormons, making it a key topic in American politics.

The acclaimed musical comedy "The Book of Mormon" has also brought attention to Mormonism, though it has elicited varied reactions in the Mormon community.

According to a Pew Research 2023 poll, a quarter of Americans expressed negative attitudes toward Mormons. According to this study, 46% of Mormons feel strongly discriminated against.


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