It's election time! Primary elections that is, for the President of the United States. I'm sure you all know that, but do you really know what is going on within the election? If you're like me, you're sure trying to learn. Now, why am I talking about politics, you might ask? Well if you've been paying attention to the news lately, you'll notice one of the big issues about the elections this year is the religion of each candidate. The most controversial, by far, is Mitt Romney's religion, LDS. That's what I'm here to talk about.
Let's start off with the name, as that might be your first question. So, what does 'LDS' stand for? Well, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." That really is the official name, and members prefer to be called "Latter Day Saints." However, they are most commonly referred to as "Mormons." So, what's the big deal? What do people have against Mormons? Well, let's solve the puzzle by looking at the history of Mormonism, as that is perhaps the most interesting part.
It all began in the early nineteenth century with a boy named Joseph Smith. Like many young individuals in their early teens, he didn't know whether his, or any other church, was correct. He claims he went into the woods of upstate New York and prayed to God to let him know which one of these churches he was to join. He reported that he was visited by two glorious personages who revealed themselves to be God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. They informed him that none of these churches were correct, and he was to organize a new church in the years to come. Later in his teenage years he was visited again, this time by a resurrected prophet, named Moroni, in the form of an angel. The angel revealed an ancient record to Joseph, buried in the ground several miles from his home. Joseph Smith claims he translated these records, by the power of God, into what is now known as the Book of Mormon.
Okay, let's pause there. The Book of Mormon is now the keystone of the LDS religion. It is considered a second testament of Jesus Christ. That basically means it is a second Bible to them, which they believe, in addition to the Holy Bible, to be the word of God. It is supposedly an account of the earliest people that came to the Americas (the Native Americans). The book itself is very long, and is worth an article itself, so I'll save that for some other time.
After Joseph Smith published the book, he organized his own church. This eventually became the LDS church as we know it today. Many people at the time were opposed to the idea of a young adult having revelation from God, and as a result he was driven out of New York to Ohio. There, his church gained more followers, who believed him to be a prophet, seer, and revelator. As the church grew, Smith introduced many new practices, which the neighbors of Ohio weren't too fond of. During these years, Smith and his followers were persecuted by opposers of the church. There are numerous accounts from both sides of the story, and I want to remain neutral, so I'll just say the Mormons were eventually led out of Ohio to Missouri. They weren't welcomed in Missouri, they were violently protested, and had a short stay. They were led to another town called Nauvoo, Illinois.
The Mormons lived a very good life in Nauvoo, for the most part, and turned it into a beautiful prosperous city. They built a temple, large houses, stores, mills, and more. It was even considered to become the capitol of the United States. However, they did not live in peace forever. Joseph Smith was in and out of jail, tarred and feathered, and persecuted for his beliefs. He was eventually killed by a mob, and considered to have died an honorable death, as a martyr, by members of the church. After his death, everything was chaotic. The temple was burned to the ground by a mob, and the Mormons fled. This time they went much further. They were led by Brigham Young, over the plains and through the Rockies, to what is now known as Utah. At that time, Utah was still part of Mexico, and and perhaps the most worthless land on the continent. Their plan was to build a society where no one else would want to live, where they could be left alone. The trip wasn't easy, and took several months to get from the east to the west. Hundreds of people froze to death, and many simply could not take the exhaustion of walking all day, every days, for weeks on end. They have been compared to the Donnor Party, and their journey has been described as one of the worst in American history, but they didn't give up. Today the church is headquartered in Salt Lake City, which is now beautiful and green.
Okay, okay. I know what you're saying, this is all nice and dandy, but you haven't explained to us why they were persecuted so much, how they are so different. Let's take a look at a few of the major controversial key points of the religion, and see what that can tell us about them:
The most common stereotype about Mormons may be that they believe in plural marriage, or polygamy. This stereotype is untrue. In the 1800's, Mormon church leaders did practice Polygamy, grudgingly, but the practice was discontinued at the beginning of the twentieth century, as they claim it was no longer necessary. Today, if any member practices polygamy, he or she will be ex-communicated from the church. The HBO hit show, "Big Love," about a polygamist family living in Salt Lake City, is an inaccurate parody of Mormons, and should not be used to base your opinion on.
Those who know a little more about the church will know that one of the most common beliefs about Mormonism is that it is a cult. A cult, as described by Dictionary.com, is "a religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader." So, is it a cult? Well, I can't say for sure whether it is or not. It all depends on who you believe. Mormons believe that they follow a prophet, a man who communes directly with God, and has the authority to give them commandments, just like Moses. Therefore, based on what they believe, it isn't a cult. However, If you are a Christian, your opinion might be different.
The Word of Wisdom
When Joseph Smith was alive, he gave his followers a so-called set of scriptures from God to live by, called The Word of Wisdom. In it, it gave advice on how to keep your body healthy. It discourages the use of tobacco, alcohol, and coffee/tea. Mormons still live by this today, and must stay abstinent from these substances if they want to remain members of the church.
One thing that Mormons share with no other Christian denomination is the fact that they have temples. To them, temples are a second place of worship. In them, they have 'Temple Sessions,' which involve rituals unique to the church. Temples are also used for weddings, and sealings, which they believe seals them and their family together for time and all eternity, even beyond the grave. They also practice Baptisms for the Dead, which is believed to be a way to give non-members, who have died, the opportunity to accept the gospel. There are over a hundred Mormon temples around the globe, and they are being built at a fast pace.
Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are the most common missionaries around the world. In the Mormon church, men are expected to serve two years on a mission, at the age of nineteen, to convert people to Mormonism. By doing this, this believe they are spreading an opportunity to those who otherwise would never hear of the church. Women also have the opportunity to go on a mission, but they are not expected to. Because of the church's missionaries, it is the fastest growing religion in the world.
Back to the original topic. How will the church affect Mitt Romney's political decisions? Well . . . it won't. People often view the LDS church as conservative, and all members to be Republican, but this is simply not true. The church gives its members no political advice to live by, there are even leaders of the church who have been liberal politicians at one point.
Now that you have some idea of what Mormons are all about, I encourage you to do some research on your own. I couldn't have been any more general in this article, this is just a rough overview. In reality, the LDS church is actually very complex, with very specific beliefs. Remember not to be biased, and to be open to learning about new things, and people who are different than you.
Thanks for reading!
Author's Note: Source: www.lds.org