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Mormonism  

Matthew Bowman

The relationship between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—commonly called “Mormonism”—and the politics and culture of the United States is both contentious and intertwined. Historians have commonly observed that Mormonism is in many ways quintessentially American, bearing the marks of the Jacksonian period in which it was born. Its rejection of the denominational leadership of its day, its institution of a lay priesthood, and Joseph Smith’s insistence that revelation trumped scholarship and study all marked it as very much of its time and place, an America in which the authority of common people was exalted and tradition authority was suspect. And yet at the same time, Mormonism was suspect almost immediately upon its birth for those things that made it appear distinctly un-American: the divine power of its prophetic leaders, its rejection of the sole authority of the Bible, its clannishness and separatism, and its defiance of 19th-century sexual morality. The history of Mormonism in America is in many ways a tug of war between these two impulses. At times the Mormons have embraced what makes them American, have proudly claimed elements of national identity, and have claimed that their faith most truly embodies the American creed. At other times, however, either because of hostility from other Americans or because of their own separatism, Mormons have distanced themselves from the national community and sought a separate community and peoplehood. Through the 19th century, because of the practice of polygamy and the theocratic government of the Utah territory, both Mormons and other Americans perceived a gap between their two communities, but that gap closed by the end of the century, when the federal government used force to eliminate those things Americans most objected to about the faith and Mormons began aggressively pursuing assimilation into American life. By the end of the 20th century, however, Mormonism’s cultural conservatism led both Mormons and other Americans to see that gap opening once more.

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Religious Traditions in Politics: Latter-day Saints  

Rick Phillips and Ryan Cragun

From its inception Mormonism was an overtly political movement that sought to dismantle the barriers between religion and government. The church’s founding prophet, Joseph Smith, was both a theological and political leader, serving as mayor of Nauvoo, Illinois, and even running for president of the United States. After Smith’s assassination, the Mormons left the United States for the valley of the Great Salt Lake in an attempt to escape the persecution the fledgling religion had faced from its inception. Isolated from the American mainstream, the Mormons established a separatist, quasi-nation in what would become the state of Utah. Church and state were substantially conflated in the Utah Territory. Political conflict with state and federal governments is a common theme running throughout Mormon history through the mid-19th century. In Utah, the fiercest battles were over federal authorities’ attempts to eradicate Mormon polygamy. The passage of draconian anti-polygamy laws eventually forced the Mormons to abandon their distinctive marriage system and begin the process of assimilating into the larger society. Mormon assimilation has proceeded in fits and starts, and charges that church and state remain conflated in Utah are still common. The Mormon Church has been involved in several high-profile political battles on “culture war” issues. While the church has generally been neutral in electoral politics since the end of World War II, Mitt Romney’s quest for the presidency has thrust some of the esoteric doctrines of Mormonism into the spotlight.

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Mormon Mobilization in Contemporary U.S. Politics  

Matthew R. Miles and Jason M. Adkins

In 2012, the Republican Party selected a Mormon, Mitt Romney, as their nominee for U.S. president. After decades of persecution and suspicion, many felt like the LDS Church was finally being accepted as a mainstream religion and an equal player on the national political stage. From a different perspective, the “acceptance” of the LDS Church by the U.S. government and the Republican Party has come at a tremendous cost. Unlike those who joined other religious denominations in America, 19th century converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave everything they had to the church. The 19th-century LDS Church controlled not just the political, but the economic, social, and religious aspects of its members’ lives. The LDS Church has traded immense power over a few dedicated members for a weaker political voice in the lives of millions more members. From this perspective, the LDS Church has never been more politically weak than they were in the 2012 presidential election. Previous LDS Church presidents endorsed non-Mormon candidates Cleveland, Taft, and Nixon more enthusiastically than President Monson endorsed Mitt Romney—one of his own. In the 20th century, the power of the LDS Church over the lives of its members has waned considerably, significantly hindering the institutional church’s ability to politically mobilize its congregants. Even in Utah, only the most ardent LDS Church members are swayed by the political dictates of LDS Church leaders.

Article

Mormonism  

Patrick Q. Mason

Mormonism is the collective name for a group of related churches, movements, and theologies that trace their origins back to the prophetic revelations of Joseph Smith Jr. (b. 1805–d. 1844). The movement splintered following the death of Smith, with the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) becoming by far the largest institutional manifestation of Mormonism today. Mormonism claims to be a restoration of ancient Christianity, following a period of apostasy after the death of Christ’s original apostles. The movement began with a series of revelations to Smith in the 1820s in which God called him to be a prophet and then an angel directed him to a buried ancient record written on golden plates. Smith translated this record “by the gift and power of God” and published it as the Book of Mormon, which is one of four books considered by Mormons to be scripture (along with the Christian Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price). Mormons believe that God leads their church through living prophets and continuing revelation, and that ordinances necessary for salvation and exaltation are performed only through the priesthood that was restored to Smith and passed on to the church today. Mormons prioritize family relationships, which they believe can be maintained after death through marriage ceremonies conducted in Mormon temples. Heavily persecuted in the 19th century for their practices of polygamy and theocracy, today Mormons are fully integrated into society even while maintaining a distinctive theology and group identity. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints operates an ambitious proselytizing campaign around the globe and continues to enjoy steady worldwide growth, with the majority of its members now residing outside the United States. Though strongly influenced by its origins in a modern American context, as it nears the beginning of its third century Mormonism is emerging as an increasingly mature global religion.