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Mormonism comprises the religious, institutional, and cultural elements of the early Latter Day Saint movement and its modern denominations deriving from the leadership of Brigham Young. Most specifically, the term Mormonism is used to refer to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), Mormon fundamentalism, the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ, and other Latter Day Saint groups that view Brigham Young as a legitimate Prophet-president. The term does not generally refer to other branches of the Latter Day Saint movement such as the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) that are not Brighamites, even though they believe in the Book of Mormon. The term ''Mormonism'' derives from the ''Book of Mormon'', one of the faith's religious texts. Based on the name of that book, early followers of founder Joseph Smith, Jr. were called ''Mormons'', and their faith was called ''Mormonism''. The term was initially considered pejorative but is no longer considered so.
Theological Mormonism is a form of Restorationism that shares a common set of beliefs with the rest of the Latter Day Saint movement, including use of the Bible, as well as other religious texts including the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. It differs from other Latter Day Saint movement traditions in that it also accepts the ''Pearl of Great Price'' as part of its canon, and it has a history of teaching plural marriage (although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had totally abandoned the practice by 1904), eternal marriage, and eternal progression. Cultural Mormonism includes a lifestyle promoted by the Mormon institutions, and includes cultural Mormons who identify with the culture, but not necessarily the theology.
Mormonism originated in the late 1820s, as Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Latter Day Saint movement told his associates and family that he had located a buried book of golden plates written by ancient American prophets. Smith said the Angel Moroni, who was the guardian of these plates, had directed him to these writings and that his mission was to publish a translation of this book. This work, published in 1830 as the Book of Mormon, served as a foundation for Smith's small Church of Christ.
Smith's church grew steadily until his death in 1844, which precipitated a succession crisis. The majority of Latter Day Saints chose Brigham Young as their leader and emigrated to a place in Mexico that soon became the Utah Territory. Young's denomination was called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). There, they publicly announced the practice of plural marriage (a form of polygamy), which Smith had instituted in secret some years earlier. Plural marriage would become the faith's most famous and defining characteristic during the 19th century. However, the practice was vigorously opposed elsewhere in the United States, threatening the LDS Church's existence as a legal institution. Faced with this pressure, LDS leader Wilford Woodruff felt he had no choice but to issue a 1890 Manifesto officially discontinuing the practice of plural marriage.
In the ensuing years, several smaller groups of Mormons broke with the LDS Church over the issue of plural marriage, forming several denominations of Mormon fundamentalism. The LDS Church has distanced itself from these groups, and has taken to promoting a mainstream American view of monogamous families. Since that time, the LDS Church brand of Mormonism has largely melded with mainstream American culture. LDS Church leaders have also sought to minimize their differences with American Christianity.
The basic theology of Mormonism derives from its canon of scripture, which includes the Bible and three other books. It also derives from statements by Mormon leaders and the Mormon Endowment ceremony. Following the pattern set by Joseph Smith, Jr. and Brigham Young, the LDS Church recognizes a single man as the spokesperson for God. In the LDS Church and many Mormon fundamentalist organizations the prophet holds the title of President of the Church. To a lesser extent, Mormon theology derives from statements by general authorities of the religion, who are also recognized as prophets and apostles.
The most authoritative sources of Mormon theology are its canon of scripture, which includes the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Of these books, Mormons hold that the Book of Mormon is "the most correct of any book on earth and the keystone of [their] religion". The Bible is accepted as "the word of God as far as it is translated correctly". Deeper and less-known Mormon doctrines may be found in the remaining two works, ''Doctrine and Covenants'' and ''Pearl of Great Price'', as well as statements by Mormon leaders, and from the Mormon Endowment ceremony. Sometimes, parts of a version of the Bible by Joseph Smith, Jr. are considered authoritative, and some excerpts have been included in the ''Pearl of Great Price''. Thus, the theology of Mormonism consists of a mixture of mainstream Christianity and added revelations, ostensible translations of other reputed ancient works, and commentary by Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders.
In addition to a general belief in the Bible and the Atonement of Jesus, other Mormon teachings are shared by factions of mainstream Christianity. For example, Mormon theology includes Restorationism (the belief in a Great Apostasy followed by a Restoration), Millenialism (belief in a thousand year reign of peace on the earth after the Second Coming), and baptism by immersion, a rejection of the original sin doctrine, Apostolic succession (via a vision of apostles to Joseph Smith), and Continuationism.
However, the foundations of Mormon theology are distinctive in many ways from most traditional Christianity. Historically, Mormonism is associated with the doctrine of plural marriage, which is still practiced within Mormon fundamentalism, though long been abandoned by the LDS Church. Mormon theology does not follow the Nicene Creed, in that it views the Trinity as three persons with distinct physical (or, in the case of the Holy Spirit, spirit) bodies. Mormonism includes a distinctive Mormon cosmology, a unique Plan of Salvation that includes three heavens, and a doctrine of Exaltation which includes the ability of humans to become gods and goddesses in the afterlife.
Differences between mainstream and fundamentalist Mormonism
One distinction between the mainstream Mormonism of the LDS Church and Mormon fundamentalism is the doctrine of plural marriage. In the LDS Church, the doctrine was abandoned around the beginning of the 20th century, but continued by the fundamentalist groups, who believe the practice is a requirement for Exaltation (the highest degree of salvation), which will allow them to become gods and goddesses in the afterlife. Mainstream Mormons, by contrast, believe that a single Celestial marriage is necessary for Exaltation.
In distinction with the LDS Church, Mormon fundamentalists also often believe in a number of other doctrines taught and practiced by Brigham Young in the 19th century, which the LDS Church has either abandoned, repudiated, or put in abeyance. These include:
* the law of consecration also known as the United Order (put in abeyance by the LDS Church in the 19th century);
* the Adam–God teachings taught by Brigham Young and other early leaders of the LDS Church (repudiated by the LDS Church in the mid-20th century);
* the principle of blood atonement (repudiated by the LDS Church in the mid-20th century); and
* the exclusion of black men from the priesthood (abandoned by the LDS Church in 1978).
Mormon fundamentalists believe that these principles were wrongly abandoned or changed by the LDS Church, in large part due to the desire of its leadership and members to assimilate into mainstream American society and avoid the persecutions and conflict that had characterized the church throughout its early years. Others believe that it was a necessity at some point for "a restoration of all things" to be a truly restored Church.
Relation to Judaism
Because of the incorporation of many Old Testament ideas into its theology, Mormonism claims a historical affinity with Judaism. The beliefs of Mormons sometimes parallel those of Judaism and certain elements of Jewish culture. This is primarily from what are historical and doctrinal connections with Judaism.
Joseph Smith Jr. named the largest Mormon settlement he founded Nauvoo, which means "to be beautiful" in Hebrew. Brigham Young named a tributary of the Great Salt Lake the "Jordan River." The LDS Church created a writing scheme called the Deseret Alphabet, which was based, in part, on Hebrew. Currently, the LDS Church has a Jerusalem Center in Israel, at which some college-aged youth study and learn to appreciate and respect the region.
[[http://ce.byu.edu/jc/ BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies]]
The LDS Church also teaches that its adherents are members of the House of Israel. Patriarchal blessings are received by most individuals in their youth. Among other things, this blessing's purpose is to declare one's lineage; in other words, to which of the twelve tribes of Israel the individual belongs.
Conversely, there has been some controversy involving Jewish groups who see the actions of some elements of Mormonism as offensive. In the 1990s, Jewish groups vocally opposed the LDS practice of baptism for the dead on behalf of Jewish victims of the Holocaust and Jews in general. According to LDS Church general authority Monte J. Brough, "Mormons who baptized 380,000 Holocaust victims posthumously were motivated by love and compassion and did not understand their gesture might offend Jews ... they did not realize that what they intended as a 'Christian act of service' was 'misguided and insensitive.'". Mormons believe that, when the dead are baptized through proxy, those being baptized have the option of accepting or rejecting the ordinance.
Missionary work is one of the key aspects of the LDS Church, and in its first year of organization, the Church sent out its first missionary, Samuel Smith, Brother to Joseph Smith, Jr.
As of 2008, there are around 52,686 missionaries serving at 348 mission sites. Missions are opened throughout the free world with the only restrictions are to areas where governments do not allow missionaries to preach (currently these areas are composed of the Middle East, some African countries, as well as China, with the exception of Hong Kong).
LDS missionary work is performed in pairs. Every young man that is both morally and physically capable of missionary work is expected to participate in a mission. Single young women also serve as missionaries. Minimum ages for missionaries being nineteen for men and twenty-one for women. Older married couples also serve in missionary labor throughout the world.
Before a missionary is sent to their respective mission, they must first attend a Missionary Training Center (MTC). Currently there are seventeen MTCs throughout the world. In order to ensure a focus on Jesus Christ, and the preaching of his gospel, missionaries cease activities such as attending parties, dating, and other forms of entertainment. Mission life is a time of prayer, scripture study, teaching, and searching for those seeking a stronger relationship with God. The average timespan for a mission for a young man is two years, whereas the average time span for a young woman is eighteen months.