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C. Gordon Melton Distinguished Professor of American Religious History, Institute for Religious Studies, Baylor University; Director, Institute for the Study of American Religion, Woodway, Texas. The author of La Chiesa…
Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints Genealogy
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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), also called Mormonism, is the church that traces its origins to a religion founded in the United States by Joseph Smith in 1830. The term Mormon, often used to refer to members of this church, comes from the Book of Mormon, published by Smith in 1830; The Church discourages the use of the term. The church is now an international movement, characterized by a unique understanding of God, an emphasis on family life, a belief in continued revelation, a desire for order, a respect for authority, and missionary work. Its members adhere to strict prohibitions on alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea and promote education and a strong work ethic.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, and had more than 16 million members by the early 2000s. A large portion of the church’s members live in the United States with the remainder in Latin America, Canada, Europe, Africa, the Philippines, and parts of Oceania.
Another Mormon denomination, the Community of Christ (until 2001 The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), is headquartered in Independence, Missouri, and has about 250,000 members in the early 2000s.
In western New York state in 1823, Joseph Smith had a vision in which an angel named Moroni told him of engraved gold plates buried in a nearby hill. According to Smith, he later received instructions from Moroni and, four years later, etched the plates and translated them into English. The resulting Book of Mormon—named after an ancient American prophet who, according to Smith, compiled the text recorded on the tablets—tells the history of a family of Israelites immigrated to America several centuries earlier by Jesus Christ and taught by similar prophets. to those in the Old Testament. The religion Smith founded arose amid the great fervor of competing Christian revival movements in America in the early nineteenth century, but departed from them in its proclamation of a new order. Through Smith, God restored the “true church”—that is, the primitive Christian church—and reaffirmed the true faith from which the various Christian churches had deviated.
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The new church was a millennial, believing in the imminent second coming of Christ and his establishment of a 1,000-year reign of peace. This belief inspired Smith’s desire to establish God’s kingdom, Zion, which was to be built somewhere in the western United States. He received revelations of not only theological truth, but also daily practical guidance. The early members of the Church created new secular institutions, including communal property (later changed to the tithing system) and polygamy, practiced by Smith himself and most of the leading Mormons in the early years of the Church.
Soon after founding the church, Smith and the bulk of the members moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where prominent preacher Sidney Rigdon and his followers had embraced the faith. In Jackson County, Missouri, where the founding of Zion is revealed, Smith established a unified denominational system of Enoch. But disagreement with non-Mormons in the area led to killings and burning of Mormon property. Tensions between church members and local Missouri slaveholders, who viewed Mormons as religious fanatics and potential abolitionists, escalated into armed skirmishes that forced 15,000 believers to leave Missouri for Illinois in 1839, where Smith built a new city, Nauvoo . . There, the newcomers’ growing commercial success and political power prompted renewed hostility from their non-Mormon neighbors. Smith’s suppression of some dissenters among the Nauvoo Mormons in 1844 intensified discontent with non-Mormons and provided grounds for his arrest. Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by a mob while they were both in prison at Carthage, near Nouveau, on June 27, 1844.
After Smith’s unexpected death, church government was left in the hands of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, whose senior member was Brigham Young. Ignoring many of the church’s leadership claimants, the majority of its members supported Young, who became the church’s second president. However, increasing mob violence made their continued presence in Nauvoo unacceptable, and so Young led a 100-mile (1,800 km) exodus to Utah in 1846–47. There they hoped to establish a commonwealth where they could practice their religion without persecution. Envisioning a new state he called Deseret, Young helped establish more than 300 communities in Utah and nearby lands. To build up the population, he sent missionaries across North America and Europe. Converts were urged to migrate to the new land, and it is estimated that about 80,000 Mormon pioneers traveling by wagon, handcart, or on foot arrived in Salt Lake City by 1869, when the arrival of the railroad made the journey much easier.
Despite the obstacles presented by the desert region of the Great Basin, the pioneers made steady progress in agriculture, in part through innovative irrigation methods. Their petition for statehood was rejected by the United States government in 1849, which instead organized the territory as a district, with Young as its first governor. Future efforts to gain statehood were hampered by the proclamation in 1852 of the church’s belief in polygamy, a practice that had begun quietly among its leaders during the Nauvoo period. Conflicts continued between Young and federal officials over this practice and over Mormon attempts to establish a theocratic government during the 1850s. Tensions increased after the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, in which a group of Mormons killed members of a wagon train passing through the area. In response to conflicts with federal officials, the President of the United States. James Buchanan sent a military expedition into Utah to quell the Mormon “rebellion” and impose a non-Mormon governor, Alfred Cummings, on the territory. Fearing that the purpose of the campaign was to persecute their faith, Young called on the Utah militia to prepare to defend the territory. A negotiated settlement was reached in 1858, and Cummings eventually became popular with church members. Although the bungled military episode, later known as “Buchanan’s blunder,” sparked widespread public sympathy for the Mormons, it succeeded in ending direct religious control of the Utah Territory government.
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After his death in 1877, Young was succeeded as rector of the church by John Taylor, the leading member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles. During Taylor’s presidency, the US government intensified its campaign against polygamy. In 1890, Taylor’s successor, Wilford Woodruff, announced the church’s abandonment of the practice in order to comply with United States law, and in 1896, Utah Territory was admitted to the Union as the 45th state. However, Woodruff’s pronouncement, “The Manifesto,” prohibited polygamy in the United States only, and persisted for a decade or so in Mexico and other places outside the jurisdiction of the US government.
In the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, over 150 different independent groups have formed to follow the new prophets, to advocate polygamy, or to continue other practices that have been ignored by the mainstream church. A significant minority, for example, refused Young’s leadership and remained in the Midwest. The largest of these groups, gaining cooperation from Smith’s widow Emma and his son Joseph Smith III, formed the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (now known as the Congregation of Christ) in 1852-1860. The Reorganized Church eventually settled in Independence, Missouri, which Smith identified as the site of Zion.
Several smaller splinter groups also arose after Smith’s death. One faction moved to Independence and purchased the so-called Temple Lot, the site that Smith had chosen for the new temple. The possession of this valuable property strained relations with the Reorganized Church, which was based on the land immediately to the south. Other factions that rejected Young’s leadership included one led by Sidney Rigdon and another taken to Texas by Messenger Lyman White. David Whitmer and Martin Harris, two early converts to Christianity, testified with Joseph Smith that they had seen the Golden Plates and the angel Moroni, and eventually established a church in Kirtland, Ohio. In 1847, James Jesse Strang established a polygamous community of about 3,000 people on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan, whose members became known as Strangites.
Among the most important Latter-day Saint factions to emerge in the twentieth century were groups that practiced polygamy. The first such colony was established at Short Creek (now Colorado City), just south of the Utah border
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