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The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (abbreviated as the LDS Church, often colloquially referred to as the Mormon Church) is a restorationist Christian church, and the largest denomination originating from the Latter Day Saint movement founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. circa 1830. The church is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, and has established congregations (called ''wards'' or ''branches'') worldwide.
Adherents are usually referred to as ''Latter-day Saints'', ''LDS'', or ''Mormons''. They view faith in Jesus Christ as the central tenet of their religion. Latter-day Saints are often considered by other faiths to be a non-traditional member of Christianity despite their belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world. LDS Church theology includes the Christian doctrine of salvation only through Jesus Christ. The church has an open canon which includes four scriptural texts: the Bible (both Old and New Testaments), the Book of Mormon, the ''Doctrine and Covenants'', and the ''Pearl of Great Price''. Other than the Bible, the majority of the LDS canon constitutes revelation dictated by Joseph Smith and includes commentary and exegesis about the Bible, texts described as lost parts of the Bible, and other works believed to be written by ancient prophets.
Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus leads the church by revealing his will to the President of the Church, whom they sustain as a modern-day prophet, seer, and revelator. Individual members are expected to receive personal revelation from God for specifics in conducting their lives. The President heads a hierarchical structure with various levels reaching down to local congregations. Male bishops, drawn from the laity, lead local congregations. Worthy male members, after age 12, may be ordained to the priesthood. Women do not hold positions within the priesthood but serve in an array of other leadership roles.
Both men and women may serve as missionaries, and the church maintains a large missionary program which proselytizes and conducts humanitarian service nearly worldwide. Faithful members adhere to laws regarding sexual purity, health, fasting, and Sabbath-day observance. Members also voluntarily tithe, donating 10 percent of their income to the church.
The history of the LDS Church is typically divided into three broad time periods: (1) the early history during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, Jr. which is in common with all Latter Day Saint movement churches, (2) a "pioneer era" under the leadership of Brigham Young and his 19th century successors, and (3) a modern era beginning around the turn of the 20th century as Utah achieved statehood.
Following his claim of being visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ in 1820, Smith gained a small following and began dictating the Book of Mormon, which he said was a translation of words found on a set of golden plates that had been buried near his home in western New York by an indigenous American prophet. Smith said he had been in contact with an angel, who showed him the plates' location.
On April 6, 1830, in western New York, Smith organized the religion's first legal church entity, the Church of Christ. The church rapidly gained a following, who viewed Smith as a prophet. In the 1830s, missionaries from the church converted thousands of new members and established outposts in Kirtland, Ohio. Smith said in 1831 that God intended the Mormons to "retain a strong hold in the land of Kirtland, for the space of five years." As persecutions increased and after Smith had received death threats, by fall 1838 Smith and most other Ohio Mormons had left Kirtland for the Mormon strong hold in Missouri. There, Smith intended to build a "city of Zion". While in prison, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum Smith (second in line to the church presidency), were assassinated on June 27, 1844, by an angry mob.
After Smith's death, a succession crisis ensued, and the majority of the members of the church followed Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, to whom Smith had given the keys of the priesthood. Young had been a close associate of Smith's and was senior apostle of the Quorum of the Twelve. Other groups of Latter Day Saints followed other leaders to form other denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement.
In 1846, after the difficulties experienced in Missouri (culminating in an extermination order issued against the Mormons) and with continued persecution in Illinois, Young led his followers, the Mormon pioneers, in the largest forced migration in American history from Nauvoo and the United States to what would later become known, in 1850, as the Utah Territory in search of religious freedom.
[[http://www.nps.gov/mopi/historyculture/index.htm "Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail: History & Culture"], U.S. National Park Service. "The great Mormon migration of 1846–1847 was but one step in the LDS' quest for religious freedom and growth."]
The group branched out and colonized a large region now known as the Mormon Corridor. Young incorporated The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a legal entity, and initially governed both the church and the state as a theocratic leader. He also publicized the previously-secret practice of plural marriage, a form of polygamy.
By 1857, tensions had again escalated between Mormons and other Americans, largely as a result of accusations involving polygamy and the theocratic rule of the Utah territory by Brigham Young. The Utah Mormon War ensued from 1857 to 1858, which resulted in the relatively peaceful invasion of Utah by the United States Army, after which Young agreed to step down from power and be replaced by a non-Mormon territorial governor, Alfred Cumming. Nevertheless, the LDS Church still wielded significant political power in the Utah Territory.
At Young's death in 1877, he was followed by other powerful LDS Presidents, who resisted efforts by the United States Congress to outlaw Mormon polygamous marriages. Conflict between Mormons and the U.S. government escalated to the point that in 1890, Congress disincorporated the LDS Church and seized all its assets. Soon thereafter, church president Wilford Woodruff issued a Manifesto that officially suspended the practice. Although this Manifesto did not yet dissolve existing plural marriages, and did not entirely stop the practice of polygamy, relations with the United States markedly improved after 1890, such that Utah was admitted as a U.S. state. Relations further improved after 1904, when church president Joseph F. Smith disavowed polygamy before the United States Congress and issued a "Second Manifesto" calling for all plural marriages in the church to cease. Eventually, the church adopted a policy of excommunicating its members found practicing polygamy and today seeks to actively distance itself from “fundamentalist” groups still practicing polygamy.
[In 1998 President Gordon B. Hinckley stated, ]
“If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose. Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this Church.” [http://www.lds.org/portal/site/LDSOrg/menuitem.b12f9d18fae655bb69095bd3e44916a0/?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=7c86605ff590c010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1 Gordon B. Hinckley, "What Are People Asking About Us?"] Ensign, November 1998, 70
The Salt Lake Temple, which took 40 years to build, is one of the most iconic images of the church
During the 20th century, the church grew substantially and became an international organization, due in part to the influx of missionaries across the globe. In 2000, the church reported 60,784 missionaries,
[“Statistical Report, 2000,” ''Ensign'', May 2001, 22] and global church membership stood at 11,068,861. [ As of 2007, membership had reached 13,193,999.]
The church became a strong and public champion of the nuclear family and at times played a prominent role in political matters, including opposition to MX Peacekeeper missile bases in Utah and Nevada, opposing the Equal Rights Amendment, opposing legalized gambling, support of bans on same-sex marriage, and opposition to legalized physician-assisted death. Apart from issues that it considers to be ones of morality, however, the church usually maintains a position of political neutrality.
A number of official changes have taken place to the organization during the modern era. One significant change was the ordination of black men to the priesthood in 1978, which reversed a policy originally instituted by Brigham Young. There are also periodic changes in the structure and organization of the church, mainly to accommodate the organization's growth and increasing international presence. For example, since the early 1900s, the church has instituted a Priesthood Correlation Program to centralize church operations and bring them under a hierarchy of priesthood leaders. During the Great Depression, the church also began operating a church welfare system, and it has conducted numerous humanitarian efforts in cooperation with other religious organizations.
Teachings and practices
Sources of authority
The theology of the LDS Church consists of a mixture of biblical doctrines with modern revelations and other commentary by LDS leaders, particularly Joseph Smith, Jr. The most authoritative sources of theology are the faith's canon of four religious texts, called the ''Standard Works''. Included in the ''Standard Works'' are the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the ''Doctrine and Covenants'', and the ''Pearl of Great Price''. Among these books, the church holds in equal esteem as the other standard works the Book of Mormon, said by the church to be "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" that Joseph Smith translated from buried golden plates. The church characterizes the Book of Mormon as "the most correct of any book on earth and the keystone of [their] religion".
The Bible, also part of the church's canon, is believed to be "the word of God as far as it is translated correctly". Most often, the church uses the ''Authorized King James Version''. Sometimes, however, parts of the ''Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible'' are considered authoritative. Some excerpts of Joseph Smith's translation have been included in the ''Pearl of Great Price'', which also includes further reputed translations by Smith and church historical items. Other historical items and reputed revelations are found in the ''Doctrine and Covenants''.
Another source of authoritative doctrine is the pronouncements of the current Apostles and members of the First Presidency. The church teaches that the First Presidency (the prophet and his counselors) and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles are prophets and that their teachings are generally given under inspiration from God through the Holy Spirit. Members of the church acknowledge (sustain) them regularly as prophets, seers, and revelators—this is done publicly twice a year at the church's worldwide general conference broadcast.
Comparisons within Christianity
In addition to a belief in the Bible, the Deity of Jesus, and his atonement and resurrection, other LDS teachings are shared with other branches of Christianity. For example, LDS theology includes belief in the doctrine of salvation through Jesus alone, his virgin birth, restorationism (via a Restoration of Christ's church given through Joseph Smith, Jr.), rejection of original sin, millennialism, continuationism, penal substitution, and a form of Apostolic succession. The practices of baptism by immersion and the Eucharist (referred to as ''the Sacrament'') are also held in common.
Nevertheless, the LDS Church differs from the many other churches within Christianity, and some Christians do not believe that the LDS Church is part of Christianity. The faith itself views other modern Christian faiths as having departed from true Christianity and that it is a restoration of 1st century Christianity and the only true and authorized Christian church. Differences between the LDS Church and most of traditional Christianity include disagreement with aspects of the Nicene Creed, belief in a unique theory of human salvation that includes three heavens (referred to as "degrees of glory"), a doctrine of "exaltation" which includes the ability of humans to become gods and godesses in the afterlife, a dietary code called the Word of Wisdom, and unique sacramental ceremonies performed privately in LDS temples, such as the Endowment and sealing ceremonies.
Officially, major Christian denominations view the LDS Church as standing apart from creedal Christianity, a point the LDS Church itself does not dispute. From the perspective of Christians who hold to creeds, the most significant area of departure is the rejection by the LDS Church of certain ecumenical creeds such as the Nicene Creed, which defines the predominant view of the Christian God as a Trinity of three separate persons with "one substance". LDS church theology recognizes a "Godhead" composed of God the Father, his son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost as three separate persons who share unity of purpose or will; however, they are viewed as three distinct beings making one Godhead. This has led to some doctrinal comparisons with Arianism and Semi-Arianism. Other significant differences relate to the church's acceptance of additional scripture, doctrine, and practices beyond what is found in the Catholic or Protestant versions of the Bible.
Distinctive doctrines and practices
Several doctrines and practices of the LDS Church are unique within Christianity. For example, the Mormon cosmology, a Plan of Salvation that includes a pre-mortal life, three heavens, and the doctrine of exaltation are distinctive among Christian sects. In particular, the LDS Church teaches that every human spirit is a literal spirit child of God. Moreover, the church teaches that humans may achieve ''exaltation'', which means that they may become gods and goddesses as "joint heirs" with Jesus. They believe that exaltation includes the reuniting of the mortal family after the resurrection and the ability to have spirit children in the afterlife. To obtain this state of godhood, the church teaches that one must have faith in Jesus, participate in a sequence of ceremonial covenants (called ''ordinances''), The LDS sealing ceremony reflects a singular LDS view with respect to families. According to LDS church theology, men and women may be ''sealed'' to each other so that their marital bond continues in the afterlife. Children may also be sealed to their biological or adoptive parents to form permanent parent-child bonds. The most significant LDS ordinances may be performed via proxy for and in behalf of those who have died. (See, e.g., baptism for the dead). The LDS Church teaches that all will have the opportunity to hear and accept or reject LDS theology and the benefit of its sacraments, in this life or the next.
The LDS faithful observe a health code called the Word of Wisdom in which they abstain from the consumption of alcoholic beverages, coffee, tea, and tobacco. Their moral code includes a law of chastity that prohibits sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage. LDS faithful donate a 10 percent tithe on all their income. They also give volunteer service in their local church. Moreover, all single young men between 19–25 years old who have sufficient health and many retired couples are encouraged to volunteer up to two years as a missionary to proselytize and/or provide humanitarian service. Unmarried women 21 years and older also may serve as missionaries for 18 months, but it is not considered their duty to do so as it is with the men who are ordained elders. Members are further instructed to set aside one night a week, typically Monday, for a Family Home Evening, where families study gospel principles together and enjoy wholesome family recreation.
Comparison with other Latter Day Saint movement faiths
The LDS Church shares a common heritage with a number of faiths, with smaller memberships, that are collectively called the Latter Day Saint movement. In common with the LDS Church, these faiths believe in Joseph Smith, Jr. as a prophet and founder of their religion. They also accept the Book of Mormon, and at least some version of the ''Doctrine and Covenants''.
Other branches of the Latter Day Saint movement may be considered off-shoots of the LDS Church, mainly as a result of disagreements about plural marriage. In the LDS Church, the practice of plural marriage was abandoned around the turn of the 20th century, but it has continued among the fundamentalist groups, who believe the practice is a requirement for exaltation. The LDS Church, by contrast, believes that a single celestial marriage is sufficient for exaltation. Fundamentalists also 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.
Stung by bad publicity in the 19th century over its former practice of plural marriage, the LDS Church has taken efforts to distance itself from polygamy and from Mormon fundamentalist groups. The church has long excommunicated any members caught practicing polygamy.
Church organization and structure
Name and legal entities
An LDS meetinghouse in London, UK
The church teaches that it is a continuation of the Church of Christ established in 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr. This original church underwent several name changes during the 1830s, being called the ''Church of Jesus Christ'', the ''Church of God'', and then in 1834, the name was officially changed to the ''Church of the Latter Day Saints''. In April 1838, the name again was officially changed by reputed revelation to ''The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints''. After Smith died, Brigham Young and the largest body of Smith's followers incorporated the LDS Church in 1851 by legislation of the State of Deseret under the name ''The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints'' which included a hyphenated "Latter-day" and a lower-case "d". In 1887, the LDS Church was legally dissolved in the United States by the Edmunds–Tucker Act because of the church's practice (now abandoned) of polygamy. Thereafter, the church has continued to operate as an "unincorporated religious association" under what remains its formal name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Accepted informal names include the ''LDS Church'', the ''Latter-day Saints'', and the ''Mormons''. The term ''Mormon Church'' is in common use, but the church began discouraging its use in the late 20th century, though takes no issue with the term ''Mormon'' itself. The church requests that the official name be used when possible or, if necessary, shortened to "the Church" or "the Church of Jesus Christ".
The church has organized several tax-exempt corporations to assist with the transfer of money and capital. These include the ''Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints'', organized in 1916 under the laws of the state of Utah to acquire, hold, and dispose of real property. In 1923, the church incorporated the ''Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints'' in Utah to receive and manage money and church donations. In 1997, the church incorporated ''Intellectual Reserve, Inc.'' to hold all the church's copyrights, trademarks, and other intellectual property. The church also holds several non-tax-exempt corporations. See Finances of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Geographic distribution and membership
Church congregations are organized geographically. Members are generally expected to attend the congregation with their assigned geographical area; however, some geographical areas also provide separate congregations for single adults or for speakers of alternate languages. For Sunday services, the church is grouped into either larger (~200 to ~400 people) congregations known as wards, or smaller congregations known as branches. Although the building may sometimes be referred to as a chapel, the room used as a chapel for religious services is actually only one component of the standard meetinghouse, of which the church maintains [http://www.mormon.org/virtualchapel/virtualchapel.html a virtual tour of a typical example] and also an [http://maps.lds.org online meetinghouse locator] which can be used to find the locations and meeting times of its congregations all over the world. Regional church organizations larger than single congregations include stakes, missions, districts, areas, and regions.
The church reports a worldwide membership of over 13 million
[This is the church's own estimate, based on membership records. . The church's definition of "membership" includes all persons who were ever baptized, or whose parents were members while the person was under the age of eight (called "members of record") , who have neither been excommunicated nor asked to have their names removed from church records. .] with approximately 6.7 million residing outside the United States. According to these statistics it is the fourth largest religious body in the United States. The church membership report includes all baptized members and their children. Although the church does not release attendance figures to the public, researchers estimate that actual attendance at weekly LDS worship services globally is around 4 million. Members living in the U.S. and Canada constitute 46% of membership, Latin America 38%, and members in the rest of the world 16%. [[http://www.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=d10511154963d010VgnVCM1000004e94610aRCRD Statistical Information], Retrieved December 1, 2007] A survey by the City College of New York in 2001 extrapolated that there were 2,787,000 self-identified LDS adults in the United States in 2001, 1.3% of the US population, making the LDS Church the 10th-largest religious body in their phone survey of over 50,000 households. The 2007 Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, found 1.7% of the U.S. adult population self identified themselves as Mormon.
For a list of notable Latter-day Saints, see List of Latter Day Saints.
The LDS Church is organized in a hierarchical priesthood structure administered by men. Mormons believe that Jesus leads the church through revelation and has chosen a single man, called "the Prophet" or President of the Church, as his spokesman on the earth. The current president is Thomas S. Monson. He and two counselors (who usually are ordained apostles) form the First Presidency, the presiding body of the church; twelve other apostles form the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
[Haight, David B., "A Prophet Chosen of the Lord", Ensign, May 1986, 7] When a president dies, his successor is invariably the most senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who then reconstitutes a new First Presidency. These men, and the other male members of the church-wide leadership (including the first two Quorums of Seventy and the Presiding Bishopric) are called general authorities. They exercise both ecclesiastical and administrative leadership over the church and direct the efforts of regional leaders down to the local level. General authorities and mission presidents work full-time and typically receive stipends from church funds or investments.
At the local level, the church leadership are drawn from the laity and work on a part-time volunteer basis without stipend. Like all members, they are asked to donate a tithe of 10 percent of their income to the church. An exception to that rule is for LDS missionaries who work at the local level and are paid basic living expenses from a fund that receives contributions from their home congregations; however, prospective missionaries are encouraged to contribute the cost of their missions to this fund themselves when possible. Members volunteer general custodial work for local church facilities.
Men in leadership roles are generally considered to be part of the priesthood and are ordained to the priesthood as early as age 12. Ordination occurs by a ceremony where hands are laid on the head of the one ordained.
The priesthood is divided into an Aaronic Priesthood for young men 12 and up and a Melchizedek Priesthood for men 18 and up. Since 1978, membership in the priesthood has been open to all races. the Young Men Organization and Young Women Organization (for adolescents aged 12 to 17), Primary (an organization for children up to age 12), and Sunday School (which provides a variety of Sunday classes for adolescents and adults). The church also operates several programs and organizations in the fields of proselytizing, education, and church welfare. Many of these auxiliaries and programs are coordinated by the Priesthood Correlation Program, which is designed to provide a systematic approach to maintain worldwide consistency, orthodoxy, and control of the church's ordinances, doctrines, organizations, meetings, materials, and other programs and activities.
The LDS Church operates a large missionary program. Some members of the church are encouraged to serve as missionaries either full-time, part-time or as "service" missionaries in one of hundreds of missions throughout the world. All missionaries serve on a volunteer basis, and their expenses are paid by savings of the missionaries themselves, their families, their local congregations, and in some cases from a general church fund. Missionaries include young single men between 19 and 25 (who serve two year missions), single women over the age of 21 (who serve 18-month missions), and mature couples who are generally retired (who serve terms ranging from three to 36 months). Young single men are strongly encouraged and expected to serve a mission; women and couples are encouraged but not expected to serve missions. Missionaries generally have no input on what part of the world they serve their missions, and if necessary, the church will teach them a new language. Missionaries are held to high standards of personal "worthiness", which is determined by interviews by ecclesiastical leaders about how well the missionary has followed church standards such as the Word of Wisdom (not consuming alcohol,caffeine,tobacco, coffee, or tea) and the law of chastity (abstaining from pre- or extra-marital sex).
The church operates a Church Educational System which includes Brigham Young University, Brigham Young University–Idaho (formerly Ricks College), Brigham Young University Hawaii, and LDS Business College. The church also operates Institutes of Religion and an LDS Student Association near the campuses of many colleges and universities. For high-school aged youth, the church operates a four-year Seminary program, which provides religious classes for students to supplement their secular education. The church also sponsors a low-interest educational loan program known as the Perpetual Education Fund, which provides educational opportunities to students from developing nations.
The church's Family History Library is the world's largest library dedicated to genealogical research
The church's welfare system, initiated during the Great Depression, provides aid to the poor. It is financed by fast offerings: monthly donations beyond the normal 10 percent tithe, which represents the cost of foregoing two meals on monthly ''Fast Sundays''. Money from the program is used to operate Bishop's storehouses, which package and store food at low cost. Distribution of funds and food is administered by local bishops (congregational pastors). The church also distributes money through its LDS Philanthropies division to disaster victims and third-world countries.
Other church programs and departments include LDS Family Services, which provides assistance with adoption, marital and family counseling, psychotherapy, and addiction counseling; the LDS Church History Department, which collects church history and records; and the Family History Department, which administers the church's large family history efforts and operates the world's largest library dedicated to genealogical research. The church is also a major sponsor of Scouting programs for boys, particularly in the United States, where it the provides more members of the Boy Scouts of America than any other church.
The church has not released church-wide financial statements since 1959, but in 1997, ''Time'' magazine called it one of the world's wealthiest churches per capita. Its for-profit, non-profit, and educational subsidiary entities are audited by an independent accounting firm: , Deloitte & Touche. In addition, the church employs an independent audit department that provides its certification at each annual general conference that church contributions are collected and spent in accordance with church policy.
The church receives almost all funds from tithes (ten percent of a member's income) and fast offerings (money given to the church to assist individuals in need). According to the church, tithing and fast offering moneys collected are devoted to ecclesiastical purposes and not used in for-profit ventures. About ten percent of its funding also comes from income on investments and real estate holdings.
The church uses its tithing funds to construct and maintain buildings and other facilities; to print the Scriptures for missionary work; to provide social welfare and relief; and to support missionary, educational, and other church-sponsored programs.
The church has also invested in for-profit business and real estate ventures such as Bonneville International, Deseret Book Company, and cattle ranches in Utah, Florida, and Canada. However, these ranches are split between Church Welfare Work (Bishop's Storehouse and Welfare Square) for which funds are used from tithing and are not for profit. For-profit ranching operations are partially self-sustained but never use tithed money.
Due to the differences in lifestyle promoted by church doctrine and history, a distinct culture has grown up around members of the church. It is primarily concentrated in the Intermountain West, but as membership of the church spreads around the world, many of its more distinctive practices follow, such as adhering to the Word of Wisdom, a revealed health law or code, similar to Leviticus chapter 11 in the Bible, prohibiting the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, coffee and tea, and other addictive substances. As a result of the Word of Wisdom, the culture in areas of the world with a high concentration of LDS tends to be reflected.
Meetings and outreach programs are held regularly and have become part of Latter-day Saint culture.
Home and family
In 1995, the church presidency issued "The Family: A Proclamation to the World", which stresses the importance of the family. The presidency proclaimed that "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children." The document further explains that "gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose," that the father and mother have differing but equal roles in raising children, and that successful marriages and families, founded upon the teachings of Jesus Christ, can last eternally. This document is widely cited by LDS members as a statement of principle.
Four times a year, the adult women (members of the church's Relief Society) attend a Home, Family and Personal Enrichment Meeting. The meeting may consist of a service project, of attending a social event, or of various classes being offered. Additional Enrichment activities are offered for women with similar needs and interests.
After interviewing and polling thousands of youth across America, evangelical statistician Christian Smith writes, "... in general comparisons among major U.S. religious traditions using a variety of sociological measures of religious vitality and salience... it is Mormon teenagers who are sociologically faring the best."
Social events and gatherings
A typical meetinghouse of the church
In addition to these regularly scheduled meetings, additional meetings are frequently held at the meetinghouse. Auxiliary officers may conduct leadership meetings or host training sessions and classes. The ward or branch community may schedule social activities at the meetinghouse, including dances, dinners, holiday parties and musical presentations. The church's Young Men's and Young Women's organizations (formerly known as the Mutual Improvement Organization, or simply "Mutual") meet at the meetinghouse once a week, where the youth participate in activities and work on Duty to God, Scouting, or Personal Progress. Other popular activities are basketball, family history conferences, youth and singles conferences, dances, and various personal improvement classes. Church members may also reserve the building at no cost for weddings, receptions, and funerals.
Media and arts
The culture has created substantial business opportunities for independent LDS media. Such communities include cinema, fiction, websites, and graphical art like photography and paintings. The church owns a chain of bookstores called Deseret Book, which provide a channel through which publications are sold. Titles including ''The Work and the Glory'' and ''The Other Side of Heaven'' have found acceptance both within and outside the church; BYU TV, the church-sponsored television station, also airs on several networks. The church also produces six pageants annually depicting various events of the primitive and modern-day church. Its Easter pageant ''Jesus the Christ'' has been identified as the "largest annual outdoor Easter pageant in the world."
Controversy and criticism
The church has been subject to criticism and even Anti-Mormonism since its early years in New York and Pennsylvania. In the late 1820s, criticism centered around the claim by Joseph Smith, Jr. to have discovered a set of golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was reputedly translated. In the 1830s, the greatest criticism was for Smith's handling of a banking failure in Kirtland, Ohio, and the LDS Church's political and military power in Missouri, culminating in the 1838 Mormon War. In the 1840s, criticism of the church centered on the church's theocratic aspirations in Nauvoo, Illinois, and the then-secret practice of plural marriage, criticism which appeared in the ''Nauvoo Expositor'' and led to a series of events culminating in Smith's assassination in 1844.
As the church began openly practicing plural marriage under Brigham Young during the second half of the 19th century, the church became the target of nation-wide criticism for that practice, as well as for the church's theocratic aspirations in the Utah Territory. After the Civil War, the church also came under nation-wide criticism after the Mountain Meadows massacre in southern Utah.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, academic critics have questioned the legitimacy of Smith as a prophet and the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham. In modern times, criticism focuses on claims of historical revisionism, homophobia, racism, and sexist policies. Notable 20th century critics include Jerald and Sandra Tanner and Fawn Brodie.
In recent years, the Internet has provided a new forum for critics, and the church's recent support of California's Proposition 8 sparked heated debate and protest by gay-rights organizations and others.