A Bloggers Brief History of the Mormon Church

Thought I would do a blog summary of the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) so that I can get my head around the various individuals and how they came to establish Salt Lake City as their base.

The LDS Church today has a membership of over 15 million and is the 4th largest Christian denomination in the US; it’s adherents are known informally as Mormons.  The Church uses four scriptural texts: the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. It is the LDS doctrines regarding the nature of God and the potential of mankind that differ significantly from mainstream Christianity.

Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon, which he said he had translated from golden plates, as a complement to the Bible.  He then founded a church called the Church of Christ, the first LDS Church, which became a legal institution on April 6, 1830.  It consisted of a community of believers in the western New York towns of Fayette, Manchester, and Colesville.  In 1831, Smith moved the Church HQ to Kirtland, Ohio and established an outpost in Jackson, Missouri.  This is where Joseph Smith intended to eventually move the Church HQ.  However, the Missouri settlers expelled the LDS Church from Jackson County in 1833, and the Church was unable to recover their lost land.  The Church in Kirtland, Ohio continued to flourish and the Kirtland Temple was built; it was in 1834 that Smith changed its name to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  However, in 1838, the Ohio era came to an end as a result of a financial scandal which rocked the church and caused many to defect from the LDS.  Joseph Smith regrouped with the remaining Church in far west Missouri but tensions soon escalated into conflicts with the old Missouri settlers.  The Missouri Governor ruled that all LDS members be exterminated or driven from the state.  So in 1839, the LDS converted a swampland on the banks of the Mississippi River into Nauvoo, Illinois, which became the Church’s new HQ. Nauvoo grew rapidly as missionaries went out to Europe and elsewhere and gained converts to the Church who then flooded into Nauvoo.  Joseph Smith introduced polygamy to his closest associates, established ceremonies whereby righteous people could become gods and joint heirs with Christ In the afterlife, and created a secular institution called the Millennial Kingdom.  He also reported his First Vision at the age of 14 years, a vision which would come to be regarded by the LDS Church as the most important event in human history after the resurrection of Christ.  Joseph Smith also predicted that the Church would move west and be established in the tops of the Rocky Mountains.  Then on June 27, 1844, Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were murdered by a mob in Carthage, Illinois whilst being held on a charge of treason.  Hyrum was Joseph Smith’s designated successor so their deaths caused a succession crisis.  The crisis resulted in a split in the LDS Church with several permanent schisms and the formation of splinter groups who followed Sidney Rigdon or James Strang.  Brigham Young finally assumed leadership in 1844 and the majority of the LDS Church followed him.  The two various groups are sometimes known as the ‘Rocky Mountain Saints’ – the followers of Brigham Young to Utah, and the ‘Prairie Saints’ – those who remained in the Midwest US.

Brigham Young had been a close associate of Joseph Smith and was a senior apostle of the Quorum of the Twelve.  Brigham Young’s tenure of the church is known as the Pioneer era.  In the 2 years after Joseph Smith’s death conflicts escalated between the LDS and other Illinois residents.  Brigham Young then took Joseph Smith’s earlier advice and led his followers, the Mormon Pioneers, first to Nebraska and then, in 1847, to the Great Basin, which is what became the Utah Territory.  More than 60,000 groups arrived over several years, these Mormon settlers spread out and colonised a large region now known as the Mormon Corridor.  The Mormon Corridor is a geographical area that begins in Utah and extends north through western Wyoming and eastern Idaho to Yellowstone National Park.  It reaches south to San Bernardino in California on the west and through Mesa, Arizona on the east and extends southward to the US-Mexico border.  The area is roughly congruent with the area between today’s Interstate 15 and US Route 89.  Young incorporated  the LDS Church as a legal entity and governed both church and the Utah Territory as a theocratic leader.  He also publicised the sacred practice of plural marriage, a form of polygamy.  By 1857 there were once again tensions with other Americans because of polygamy and theocratic rule of Utah Territory.  The Utah Mormon War followed between 1857-58, following which Young agreed to step down from power and be replaced by a non-Mormon territory governor.  The practice of polygamy continued however, and the LDS continued to wield significant political power in the Utah Territory.  Young died in 1877 and subsequent church presidents continued to resist efforts by US Congress to outlaw polygamous marriages.

Eventually in 1890, Congress disincorporated the LDS Church and seized all its assets.  Soon after this, the Church president, Wilford Woodruff, issued a manifesto that officially suspended the practice of polygamy.   The manifesto did not dissolve existing plural marriages so as to not split apart families but no new polygamous marriages could be performed.  Relations with the US Congress improved after this and Utah was admitted as a state to the Union in 1896.  The LDS Church then adopted a policy whereby any church member still practising polygamy was excommunicated.

During the 20th century the LDS Church grew significantly and became an international organisation.  In 2010, worldwide membership was reported as 14 million with about 6 million of those within the US.  Demographic studies from the 1990s indicate that only one third of these people are active members.  The Church today usually maintains a position of political neutrality, except on those issues which it considers to be ones of morality.  It does however encourage its members to be politically active, to participate in elections, to be knowledgeable about current political and social issues within their communities, states and countries.  The Church has operated a church welfare system since the Great Depression and conducts numerous humanitarian efforts in cooperation with other religious organisations e.g. Catholic Relief Services and Islamic Relief, as well as secular organisations e.g. American Red Cross.

The LDS faithful observe a health code called the Word of Wisdom in which they abstain from the consumption of tea, coffee, tobacco and illegal drugs.  It also encourages the use of wholesome herbs and fruits within season, moderate consumption of meat, and consumption of grains as well as regular physical exercise.

My understanding of the historical development and geographical migration of the LDS Church is a bit clearer now.


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