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June 24th, 2011
02:11 PM ET

Explain it to me: Mormonism

With two Mormons running for the Republican presidential nomination and a play riffing on the religion tearing up Broadway, the country appears to be having a Mormon moment.

Here are 10 facts about Mormonism. What other questions do you have about the faith?

1. The official name of the Mormon church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

2. Mormons consider themselves Christian but their beliefs and practices differ from traditional Christianity in key ways, including belief in sacred texts outside the Bible and practices like posthumous proxy baptism and wearing special undergarments.

3. There are about 14 million Mormons today, with more than half living outside the United States.

4.  The Mormon religion was founded in upstate New York in 1830, when Joseph Smith published a translation of writings he said he found and translated from Egyptian-style hieroglyphics into English.  That's the Book of Mormon, which believers say consists of writings produced by ancient American civilizations.

5. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has outlawed polygamy since 1890.

6. Early Mormons faced intense persecution, so church headquarters relocated from New York to Missouri to Illinois in rapid succession. Joseph Smith was killed by a mob in Illinois. His successor, Brigham Young, led early Mormons to the Great Salt Lake in what's now Utah, where church headquarters remains.

7. Mormon men are expected to perform two years of missionary work beginning when they're 19 years old. Women can also do missionary work when they turn 21, but there is less pressure to do so.

8. Famous Mormons include J.W. Marriott, founder of the hotel chain, Glenn Beck and Gladys Knight, a convert.

9. Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney represent different generations of Mormonism that have related pretty differently to American culture.

10. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is running some major ad campaigns to take advantage of burgeoning interest in the religion.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Mormonism

soundoff (3,741 Responses)
  1. Paul

    I'm a baptist from georgia and truly do respect these mormons. they might believe differently than me but I respect the hell out of them and their devotion to Christ

    June 24, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  2. Jamie

    Im cracking up reading the comments from RSH. I wonder how many hours he has been sitting on this comment page

    June 24, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  3. Sloanius

    Definition of cult:
    1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.
    2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.
    3. the object of such devotion.

    definitions 1 and 2 could be used to describe any religon, so those of you out there calling The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints a cult, look at your own beliefs with the same scrutiny that you hold other's beliefs to.

    June 24, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  4. Charly Garcia

    Do you know that the book of mormon has been edited more times than any other book on the face of the earth? and each time these changes has been made to mitigate or to keep by any means any potential problem that would bring down the main core of beliefs in which everything states on? By the way, each new edition has been made by some kind of vision given to the President of the LDS church which is believing to the the prophet in succession since Joseph Smith declares himself a prophet of God. Do you know Joseph Smith received many revelations and between those he stated that men are to be married to many wives (the youger the better), and that this was a commandment he received directly from God itself in an apparition? What about the special rituals that are performed at the temples and not the the churches which are so similar to the ones performed by the Free Masons? Are they different from pagan rituals nowhere stated in the Bible? How about the Egyptian-style hieroglyphics gold plates? where are they? Is is true the angel Moroni hide them away from preying eyes? How about the ancient indians living before the Conquest of the New World? are they really part of that lost tribe of Israelites that sailed farther than the Vikings to reach these lands? DNA says there is not even a slightly percent of chance indians are related to Israelites or Palestinians or any other ethnic race from that area? How do you answer to that? Why the Mayan-Quiche Bible "The Popol Vuh" doesn't mention not even slightly anything about this? Definitively Mormom beliefs are conformed and twisted in a way that only people who doesn't know the truth believes and follow them. Read the Bible and you'll find what you can't find in any other books. You don't need special garments to protect you just the word of God in the Bible, if Jesus didn't come to accomplish what was written about the prophecies in the Bible then why He said "It is accomplished"? Why do we need a restoration of the Word of God? We need to restore our selves according to His Word and not to restore the Word according to my needs. Got that one Mormons?

    June 24, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • JeramieH

      I'm sorry, which version of the Bible are we talking about again?

      June 24, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Rethink

      The Book of Mormon has been edited a number of time, but only to correct misspellings and such. No substantive changes were made. Believe me. I have read the first edition and the latest edition.

      June 24, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • ManicZorbian

      Spinach Quiche is much better than Mayan Quiche. Just sayin'.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  5. Aaron

    As I recall, the learned said Jesus had a devil and cast him out from among them. Let's be very careful not to cast out those who don't believe like the majority. Sometimes the silent minority has a whole lot more to offer than the immoral majority!

    June 24, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  6. Me

    I've been a Mormon for 20 years and every single day I'm only more convinced that my religion is true. I'm happy to share it with anyone but not everyone is going to accept it because of the lack of desire to know the truth. Too bad! It really is sad that the most precious knowledge is right here, available to anyone, and people just refuse to accept it. I'm talking about the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness that is being taught by my church. It's never too late, though, to listen, accept and change your ways!!! I really strongly advise you to research for yourself and start praying that God may tell you if it is true or not. It is that simple. Just pray and ask in faith and see what happens!! Good luck. All the best.

    June 24, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Me

      Check out mormon.org - one of the official websites of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You will get many of your questions answered.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  7. Sam

    Mormons reject the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity. They also think God the Father and God the Son (Jesus) were once mere (non-divine) humans, and that a good Mormon male could also become a god just like God the Father and God the Son. Mormons reject the unity of God the father and Jesus (they are two separate gods, according to Mormonism). A woman cannot become a god, however.

    However, just as most Presbyterians cannot tell the theological differences between a Calvinist and a Methodist, most Mormons can't tell the theological differences between a Mormon and a Baptist.

    June 24, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • ManicZorbian

      If you say Trinity in the sense that Jesus, God, Holy Spirit are the same person, even Jesus didn't teach that.

      June 24, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Sam

      The Doctrine of the Trinity is that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three separate persons in one God. Mormons say that those three persons are three separate gods, and that any good Mormon male could become a god just like them.

      June 24, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • Rethink

      Actually, I think Mormons do believe that women can become gods. At least, they can become perfect, if that's what you mean.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • ManicZorbian

      Sam that notion of three separate persons in one God makes no sense at all. Christ made it clear that he was a wholly separate being from God (the Father) and Holy Spirit. All three have the same purpose, but they are not the same person or manifestations of a single being. That's not even in the Bible (if you believe in the Bible, I mean – LOL!).

      June 24, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • Sam

      I'm not saying the Doctrine of the Trinity is in the Bible, but it is a standard belief among orthodox and protestant christians that is not shared by Mormons.

      And Mormons think that all gods start out as mere men. Only men can become just like God the Father. Women are at best their eternal servants. The perfection of a Mormon man is to become just like God the Father (with their own planet). The perfection of a Mormon woman is to serve their husband who has become a God.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • ronkimmons

      "most Mormons can't tell the theological differences between a Mormon and a Baptist."

      Wrong.

      Virtually every Mormon I know is quite aware. Largely because Baptists love to shout at us about it while they picket our holy places.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Sam

      So what are all the theological differences between Baptists and Mormons on the nature of God and the afterlife that you know of?

      June 24, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  8. CSnord

    The culture inside the religion is very much like a cult. When growing up, Mormon children are never allowed to be outside of the direct influence of the church for more than a few hours. In heavily Mormon areas, like Phoenix, Mesa, and Chandler, AZ, you'll always find a Mormon cultural center built within a block or so of every high school. Mormon kids are expected to attend school and then report to the Mormon center at the end of the day for further "education". They study Mormonism and discuss what they learned in school. This gives the church the opportunity to "correct" certain secular teachings (evolution and the like) to ensure the kids toe the Mormon line. The pressure to marry and reproduce is enormous and makes Catholics look tame. Make no mistake, Mormonism is a cult, but a relatively harmless one.

    June 24, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Me

      Really? And you know that because...?

      June 24, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Aaron

      Absolute gibberish. Do you honestly think people are going to believe your twisted conclusions? Come on CSnord, your views of Mormonism are far from true... but nice try

      June 24, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • CSnord

      I grew up in a Mormon community. When to school with hundreds of Mormon kids from kindergarten through college. I have a fair number of Mormon friends. I've been in their temples and attended their ceremonies and even played music at Mormon funerals. I've seen their behavior and talked to them about their beliefs and read their texts. Do you two still want to debate qualifications? You are the idiots.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Segev Stormlord

      When you say you've "been in their temples," are you sure you mean Temples, and not just church-buildings? There's a significant difference. Non-members are not permitted past the lobby area of actual Temples. Only mormons who have a Temple Recommend (which is just a little certificate that says you're a member in good standing – you adhere to the various teachings of the church, uphold the word of wisdom, are either celibate or faithful to your spouse, that sort of thing) are allowed into the various other parts of the Temple. This is because it is a highly sacred place. This is very similar to how the ancient Hebrews only permitted certain members of the clergy into the sacred hearts of their tabernacles.

      Having grown up mormon, I can assure you that you're wrong about having to "report" for "further education." We DO have seminary in the mornings before high school; it's basically a Bible-study class (though we also study the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price). We are very community oriented; young men/young women are two organizations that are similar to or coupled with the Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts, and perform similar activities, and for much the same reason: promotion of wholesome activities for our youths. Non-members are openly invited to these, whether they're interested in investigating the church or not, because there's nothing to hide and we enjoy being firmly connected to the community.

      Participation, however, is not manditory. I often didn't; I was too busy with other things when I was in high school. It's just there and encouraged.

      June 27, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  9. Jon

    My neighbor is mormon and has raised a great family of 3 kids. they are so kind to us and always looking out to help. I don't necessarily agree with his religion but I highly respect him and how he holds to his beliefs. He even gave me a Book of Mormon which I am currently reading

    June 24, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • ManicZorbian

      Hey Jon, same scenario here, nice neighbors, helpful, always looking out for me, great kids. I got the book too, LOL!! 🙂

      June 24, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  10. Josh

    Giant Cult. I read the book and actually looked for archeological evidence of any of the groups mentioned as part of my dissertation and there is no evidence. Even old testament places exist, whether anyone can prove the people did or not, but no evidence of groups from the book of Mormon.

    June 24, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Josh

      AND when interviewing Mormons for my research NONE of them could answer this "anomaly" and told me "you'll just have to ask jesus for that answer in your heart"... What!? Not to mention the god supposedly took gold tablets into heaven so they wouldn't be destroyed? Because gold is worth more in heaven than any other rock? You think if god had cared he'd have had the things carved into basalt. Apparently the Mormon heaven is on the gold standard though and angels see value enough in the metal to take the tablets to heaven with them – though ask a Mormon to explain this and they'll likely tell you to ask god in your heart.

      June 24, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  11. Sarah

    We live out west in a Mormon community. Nothing to fear here. Good, decent, country folk!

    June 24, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • D

      But they fear you–that's why they wear magical underwear

      June 24, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  12. RSH

    If it seems like a cult, it is a cult.

    If you walk in the temple and you are not a "member" they will change the carpet.

    Once they have you, you look in the water of some pool and repent for all of your dead family members and they will get to go to Heaven (CULT!)

    If the family disowns a child, the parent tears the sleeve on the child’s shirt, so that no one in the area will help them. They will know the child has been thrown out. (CULT)

    Worshiping another human, B.Y. and all the others. (CULT)

    They are in the same group as the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Scientology folks.

    June 24, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • justme

      wrong

      June 24, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Judd

      RSH, Do your homework!!! You definitely do NOT know anything about the vast array of world religions including mormonism, Jehovah Witness etc, catholicism.... You seem very narrow minded and uneducated!!

      June 24, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Rethink

      Mormons don't do anything you said. And they don't even do anything close that could have been misunderstood!

      June 24, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • cs

      Wow. Where did you get all this information? I'm sorry, but you just sound silly for believing this crap. I've been a mormon for 33 years and have no idea what you're talking about. Tearing your child's sleeve so they're marked...? Changing the carpets? looks like you need to do a little more research before posting.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Uhhh...

      I have been a member of the LDS Church for most of my life. I would really like to know what church you are talking about – 'cause it ain't mine! Seriously, shirt tearing. I have been jogging my mind to think of whatever might remotely give someone that idea and associate it with the LDS church. Nonsense.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  13. Maria Castro

    I love the people of the mormon church. my family grow up catholic but i always love the mormon people, they truly believe in Jesus and follow him their best

    June 24, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • D

      ...and false prophets like BY and JS

      June 24, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  14. Dave

    lol @ the comments regarding cults

    The only difference between a religion and a cult is the number of followers.

    June 24, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  15. Tom

    I agree with Sonja. Although no one is perfect, Mormon's are some of the most respectful people I've encountered.

    June 24, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  16. CGoodrich

    Mr. Gilgoff did a fine job of objectively explaining a number of key questions on the LDS church, and I appreciate that he did it without any hint of what often comes in such discussions - that since Mormons believe things that are different from Protestant Christianity, that they are therefore "weird" and fair game for ridicule. Any rational, sensible person can see that every religion has aspects that outsiders would consider "weird", starting with Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Mormon, Shintu, and ending with philosophies like Tao or Druid. The fact that aspects of another's beliefs seem unusual is not the point of significance - it is whether the person themself becomes better or worse as a result of following their religious convictions.

    The ultimate test was spelled out by Jesus - "by their fruits ye shall know them". This applies to all humans, religious or not. If someone's beliefs directly led them to commit horrible acts of brutality, we would be justified in saying that those beliefs are evil. But if someone commits atrocities *in spite of* their beliefs, no one is justified in blaming his religion. Though Hitler was a baptized Catholic and publicly supported Christianity, his actions in waging a war of oppression and brutality are not justified by any religion, rightly so.

    Before mob mentality takes over and leads anyone to assume that "different" means "weird" and "weird" justifies persecution or discrimination, he or she should apply the test of "by their fruits". Continuing to dwell on the "weird" aspect of any religion only serves to stop rational thought and impede any fair appraisal of anindividual's qualifications or capabilities.

    June 24, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  17. SONJA

    I love and respect members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Good people with solid beliefs.

    June 24, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  18. Ford

    Tell me what YOU believe... rather than what you DON't. Try spending your time enlightening us on what you know, believe, hope, practice.. instead of spewing hate about others!

    June 24, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • MW

      I concur! Why all the anger at something so harmless and that brings so many people joy? If you don't believe in Mormonism, OK. What do you believe in? What legitimate questions do you have about mormons (that aren't from a cult website)? Mormon's are happy to answer questions and discuss beliefs, but when people spout lies and hate it's not doing anything but making more hate in the world.

      June 24, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  19. Sean

    CULT. Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb.

    June 24, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Judd

      Sean, Let me guess.. Still trying to get your GED!!!

      June 24, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  20. Janice

    I'm a baptist and highly respect the mormon church and the people in it. It is sad to hear so many of you attacking anothers religion. They are Christians and they are devoted people who do a lot of good. Of course there are bad people in any religion but mormons are very good citizens.

    June 24, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Sean

      You're a "christian" and you highly respect the mormon church that says Jesus is the half brother of satan, and spreads a skewed Gospel based on a false prophet???? Explain that one for me...

      June 24, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.