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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. Fastoid

    Decent article covering the basics, but I learned much more at mormon.org

    June 25, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  2. Cedarstump

    Was Jesus a christian? If not, why does everyone after him have to be?

    Was Mohammed a muslim? If not, why does everyone after him have to be?

    I'm confused.

    June 25, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  3. Bill Fitzgerald

    JWH, Question. So the Atonement does not count for the dead?

    June 25, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • Adam

      The atonement covers all men, living and dead. But Jesus also said that all men must be born of water to enter into the kingdom of God. Baptism is therefore essential. Since many people do not have the opportunity to be baptized in this life, God has prepared a way for them to be baptized by proxy. If there was no resurrection we would not need baptism but since the atonement covers all men, baptism for the dead is a necessary symbol for many of those who died without the opportunity for baptism.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:01 am |
  4. thisisforhatemail

    Thanks for deleting my comment CNN. You can post all the pro Mormon stuff, and the hatred from others, but not a well thought out and historical non-apologetic look at Mormonism. Way to go.

    June 25, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  5. Cedarstump

    Just 1 question: Who made god? Another god? The big bang? I'm confused...

    June 25, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  6. frank

    Sorry, I'm confused–do Mormons believe God is a Jew or a Hopi??

    June 25, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  7. Cassandra

    You've missed the central thesis behind the LDS faith. What really sets Mormons apart from other Christian religions is the belief that a small band of ancient Jewish families traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to settle in South America and eventually develop into a huge civilization. The common claim among Mormons is that all native American AND Polynesian populations are descended from this ancient band of Jewish settlers. Furthermore they believe that after Christ was resurrected, he visited these early civilizations before finally returning to the apostles and ascending to heaven.

    Incidentally, everything they say in the song 'I believe' from the Book of Mormon musical is basically right on the nose, even if they do sing it out in a glib sort of way.

    June 25, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • Brian

      Actually, the concept that all Native Americans are Israelites is false. The Book of Mormon itself says that there were already indigenous people in the Americas when Lehi came here. There is a concept in the church, however that the blessings to Lehi's progeny extends to all Native Americans and Pacific Islanders. But you would be hard pressed to find a Mormon who actually believes that ALL Natives are descended from Lehi.

      June 25, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  8. Rod

    It's my opinion that Mormons have about as much claim to truth as any Christian, Jew, or Muslim. Are their stories silly? Perhaps. But I find the story of a resurrection as absurd and implausible.

    June 25, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  9. Jasmine

    Sorry, gotta go take my son to the park and look up at the sky. Life's too short. Gotta take every opportunity.

    June 25, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  10. EZ2bME

    yeah, too many angry people on this blog preaching hate and intolerance. They need to go practice their religion and allow me the same opportunity... that is unless, their religion is based on hate and intolerance which is why their out here preaching their word. Let's put it into perspective::

    Christianity: 2.1 billion
    Islam: 1.5 billion
    Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist: 1.1 billion
    Hinduism: 900 million
    Chinese traditional religion: 394 million
    Buddhism: 376 million
    primal-indigenous: 300 million
    African Traditional & Diasporic: 100 million
    Sikhism: 23 million
    Juche: 19 million
    Spiritism: 15 million
    Judaism: 14 million
    Baha'i: 7 million
    Jainism: 4.2 million
    Shinto: 4 million
    Cao Dai: 4 million
    Zoroastrianism: 2.6 million
    Tenrikyo: 2 million
    Neo-Paganism: 1 million
    Unitarian-Universalism: 800 thousand
    Rastafarianism: 600 thousand
    Scientology: 500 thousand

    can't we all just get along.

    June 25, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • No

      Obviously not. Or didn't you see what you wrote? Nobody's getting along with anyone else. There is no truth in religion.
      Basing your "coexistence" on lies is not a rational means of coexistence, for there will always be conflicting lies to distract and provide reasons for conflict.
      Human discontent and irrationality are some of what religions are based on. That is not a recipe for peace.

      June 25, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • Muneef

      EZ2bME.

      Now that you have listed the number of religions there are....can you list for each how many branches there are and whether they as branches they get on well together or not?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:21 am |
  11. Muneef

    Islamic Hadiths;
    Supposed to be violent and aggressive to non believers are told by many ;
     
    In English;
    http://www.40hadith.com/40hadith_en.htm

    In international languages;
    http://www.40hadith.com/

    June 25, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  12. Peter Marlow

    Any fair examination of truth always requires a study of both sides of an issue. Please understand that the arguments against Mormons (such as the many posted here) are based mainly on obscure quotes, sometimes inaccurate, all taken out of context purposely to maximize confusion, and then accompanied by the deceptive “explanations” of those who are strangely consumed by an urgent need to tear us down. Does that sound like a formula for finding out truth? And because many of these quotes are speculative, anyway, and were therefore never included in LDS Church canon as doctrine, they don’t always represent our beliefs.

    You may want to know what all this fuss is all about. Perhaps you are interested in learning more. You can get the other side of the story at mormon.org. So, why not balance your exploration of Mormonism by studying what we believe from those who believe it – from the source? Learn what we really believe from us, not from those who don’t understand us (because you will then only learn their misunderstandings), and not from those who anxiously seek to misrepresent what little they do know (because they are trying to deceive you). You’ve heard them mock and insult us the way atheists mock and insult you. Does that seem right or Christian to you? There is a better way. Give us a fair chance. You might be delightfully surprised at what you learn.

    For example, carefully check out mormon.org/jesus-christ/ and ask yourself if the Jesus we believe in is not the same Christian Jesus you believe in, maybe even more Christian than what you’ve been taught before. Ask yourself if the things we teach do not help you gain a better understanding of the immense magnitude of God’s love for you. You’ll discover that we know love better than anyone. And God is love. You may actually find answers to questions you’ve had that no-one else has previously been able to answer for you. We get that a lot.

    Did you know that though we believe we are the true church of Jesus Christ, that He has personally brought back to the earth His original church organization and leads it today through His divinely restored priesthood authority, and that therefore, naturally, all other churches are missing one thing or another – most importantly, all are lacking His priesthood authority – though we believe this, we teach only love and respect for all other religions. Though a few of our younger members may still be working on improving their manners, we don’t as a church mock the beliefs of others, insult them or try to make them appear evil. In fact we believe that God loves all His children and understands the stumbling blocks they face. He is patient as they learn and grow. We believe there is a lot of good in all churches and religions. And we certainly don’t think that those of other religions are all are going to hell.

    Consider this: if Mormons also believe in the Bible (which we very strongly do), perhaps it all just comes down to how one chooses to interpret the Bible. But how can you know whose interpretation is correct? There are, after all, hundreds of widely accepted interpretations, all of them done by intelligent scholars, which have led to hundreds of respected Christian sects, none of which agree on everything, each one claiming to be right. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has brought something a little bit different to the discussion, something new and unusual. That’s why all the attention is on us.

    We testify that God has made a unique promise to you to help you sort through all of the confusion. It’s in the Bible – a little bit in one place, a little bit in another. It’s also in the Book of Mormon. Perhaps you’ve already discovered it. It requires that you put all your trust in God. This promise is that God can lead you by His Spirit, the Holy Ghost. He can reveal His divine knowledge to you personally. And He promises He will, if you put all your faith in Him – not in what any person tells you, not in histories, traditions or orthodoxies, not in any of the philosophies of men or their creeds (all things which Jesus warned against) – but only in Him.

    God promises you that if you will study His Word – and do it with an open heart, without prejudice, with a sincere desire to know and while humbly making a personal commitment with Him to do His will and always keep His commandments – and if you then ask Him to confirm the truth of His Word to you personally, with faith in Jesus Christ, while trusting and believing in His love for you, His desire for you to know the truth, and in His power to make truth known in a way that cannot be mistaken or confused, He will manifest the truth of it to you by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost you can know the truth of all things.

    I’ve done this. I’ve asked God and He has revealed His truth to me. As a result, I can share it with you. I testify in the name of Jesus Christ that our Heavenly Father lives, and that He knows you and loves you. I testify that Jesus Christ is His Son, our Savior and Redeemer, who took upon Himself the sins of the world. Jesus conquered sin and death so that we could be saved in the Kingdom of His and our Father. I testify that the Book of Mormon is true, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s true church upon the earth today. I testify that He calls prophets and that a true prophet leads His church today under His direction. I know these things are true by the power of the Holy Ghost. You, too, can know these wonderful truths, to your – and His – great eternal joy.

    June 25, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • Andrew

      Way to tell it like it is. I'm right there with you.

      June 25, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • Michael

      yet you still wear silly "holy"underware and put faith in a book that reportedly came from a hat and ancient Egyptian writings only one man could decifer.
      Listen, just because you want to appear "cool", doesn't make it so. You may be intelligent, you may be good, but you are still just a cult of Christianity.

      June 25, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • frank

      Surely you jest?

      June 25, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • Deuce26

      Your information and your presentation of the Mormon beliefs were thoughtful and respectful. Pro or con on this subject, the respectful interplay of opinions is why I read the comments. The name-bashing, cruel, or disrespecctful comments cause me to believe they speak without civility or knowledge. Thank you again for your information.

      June 25, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  13. DOD1

    My boss is a Mormon and a very good one at that. Best employer I've ever had.

    June 25, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • John

      Mine too. I love my job!

      June 25, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  14. Muneef

    ((He raised some of you above others in rank));

    6:165] He is the One who made you inheritors of the earth, and ((He raised some of you above others in rank)), in order to test you in accordance with what He has given you. Surely, your Lord is efficient in enforcing retribution, and He is Forgiver, Most Merciful.
    --

    From the Quranic verse above we understand that the People Although Equal in Rights but are still in Ranks as when it comes to knowledge,wealth and power... Same things apply to Countries although Equal in Rights but still in Ranks as when it comes to knowledge,wealth and power...!

    Now this Gaps between those Ranks have grown falling behind between Ranks that has caused all the financial crisis that the world has suffered of and caused what has become to be known as the "Spring of the Mideast" although each had their reasons for it in Ranks...!

    It was told that time would come as small signs of the promised date that the wealthier would compete with building fancy sky sc-ra-pers & l Buildings...all serving pleasures and entertainments of certain High Ranks...Such fancy projects has dried up cash flow from financial markets which priorities was to  help and encourage small business owners in the fields of services or as industrialists or agriculturalists from finding supportive finance to develop economy and reduce employment...

    Higher bids by brokers on loans and interests ( Us-u-r-y) has delusioned the greediness of the international financial in-st-it-u-tions in to getting heavily involved financially running after the gold shine that the oil countries.
     means that these financial fountain springs has no planed directions or control over them to serve towards the developments of the Ranks and reducing gap between them by investing in a total su-sta-in-able development of all those ranks as to morals,knowledge,skills and their personal business investments. By providing technical guidance and financial assistance towards generating and encouraging investment ventures between public and private sectors in some in-teg-ra-tion completeness...

    Finance been bl-ock-ed in sky sc-r-apers, fancy islands,entertainment com-pl-exes and so on...this drove to the rich to grow poor, the poor grow poorer, the hungry grow hungrier...
    ----–

    Another Quranic verse says that In the heaven is our provision, and everything that is promised to us;
                      
    [51:20] The earth is full of signs for those who are certain.
    [51:21] And within yourselves; can you see?
    [51:22] In the heaven is your provision, and everything that is promised to you.
    [51:23] By the Lord of the heaven and the earth, this is as true as the fact that you speak.

    Heavens promise us rain that brings satisfaction and prosperity to all of those who depend on it... Heavens or are as well in ranks as per Q/verse;  

    [71:15] Do you not realize that GOD created seven universes (Heavens) in layers?

    Which only means that Ranks has to rain on to lower ranks for life flow to go as should in business between them and beside that....we have seen verses where it persists on people to be charitable by "Sadaqa" and "Zakath"....which are supposed to keep provision flowing from the top Rank to the lower to it and so on from one to the next...just like a fountain of water flowing from the top down layer by layer....

    Each a country has to have a fountain of water flowing as part of a group of fountains worldwide all together look as one Chris-mess Tree of layers of fountains running down and up again continuously with out interruptions otherwise the whole world will become falling backward in to a fountains of innocent Blood's,lives lost due the ignorance and the negligence of unlimited greeds....

    May God kill the tyrants by tyrants and save all the pure innocents in good peace. Amen. 

    June 25, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  15. Reality

    As we "thu-mp" along with rational thinking, conclusions and reiteration to counter the millennia of false and flawed religious history and theology!!!

    They are called the Great Angelic Cons:

    Joe Smith had his Moroni.

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

    Jesus and his family had Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day dem-on of the de-mented.

    The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

    Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.
    Some added references to "tink-erbells".

    "Latter-day Saints also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."

    Apparently hallu-cinations did not stop with Joe Smith.

    newadvent.org/cathen/07049c.htm

    "The belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all antiquity; pagans, like Menander and Plutarch (cf. Euseb., "Praep. Evang.", xii), and Neo-Platonists, like Plotinus, held it. It was also the belief of the Babylonians and As-syrians, as their monuments testify, for a figure of a guardian angel now in the British Museum once decorated an As-syrian palace, and might well serve for a modern representation; while Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, says: "He (Marduk) sent a tutelary deity (cherub) of grace to go at my side; in everything that I did, he made my work to succeed."

    Catholic monks and Dark Age theologians also did their share of hallu-cinating:

    "TUBUAS-A member of the group of angels who were removed from the ranks of officially recognized celestial hierarchy in 745 by a council in Rome under Pope Zachary. He was joined by Uriel, Adimus, Sabaoth, Simiel, and Raguel."
    And tin-ker- bells go way, way back:

    "In Zoroastrianism there are different angel like creatures. For example each person has a guardian angel called Fravashi. They patronize human being and other creatures and also manifest god’s energy. Also, the Amesha Spentas have often been regarded as angels, but they don't convey messages, but are rather emanations of Ahura Mazda ("Wise Lord", God); they appear in an abstract fashion in the religious thought of Zarathustra and then later (during the Achaemenid period of Zoroastrianism) became personalized, associated with an aspect of the divine creation (fire, plants, water...)."

    "The beginnings of the biblical belief in angels must be sought in very early folklore. The gods of the Hitti-tes and Canaanites had their supernatural messengers, and parallels to the Old Testament stories of angels are found in Near Eastern literature. "

    "The 'Magic Papyri' contain many spells to secure just such help and protection of angels. From magic traditions arose the concept of the guardian angel. "

    For added information see the review at:
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel

    June 25, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • Tyndale

      I know the so called "intellectual" crowd think it is hogwash to believe in God, angels, life before birth, life after death and every other religious principle, yet they have no problem believing the chaos of the universe became more organized as time went on without any guiding intelligence, (I wish my room did that) that the unthinkable intricacies of human life and species developed by chance from dust to a point where man can think, can do, can conceptualize, has energy, can reproduce. To believe in God is so much more settling than believing in chance micro-physics. if you can believe that, you have it in you to be able to believe in God. He is a more sure bet, and a safer bet for the eternities to follow. Were life to end at death, which it won't, believers are on the same ground as non-believers, but if life continues, they are the ones set to move on. Doubters are left to then admit, oops. Figure out now what you will be doing then.
      On another thought, The Book of Mormon is incredible, but it never has and it never will replace the Bible, nor does it supersede it. It is simply better preserved and more complete, but it supports every Bible truth. It is a second witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ, from another people. I invite you to read it. You can get a copy in any Marriott Hotel. It is true. It contains the writings of ancient men who were close to God and spoke with him. It will bring you closer to your creator. Test it. It was foretold in the Bible and confirms Biblical teachings. And what is even better, today Jesus is still influencing his prophets on the earth as He prepares the earth for His Second coming.

      June 25, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @Tyndale Science has very good theories about how the universe unfolded, much of which has withstood decades of severe empirical scrutiny. Nothing remotely of the sort can be said about any aspect of religious cosmology.

      June 25, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • Deborah

      And of course, everything one reads on Wikipedia is absolute fact.

      June 25, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • Holy Man of Science

      @Tyndale
      The universe did not go from "chaos" to being "more organized."
      You are in error.

      The same "chaos" we had at the beginning is the same "chaos" we have now. There is no "organization" at all.
      Frankly, I don't know where you got your silly ideas about cosmology but they are not based on sound thinking or rational analysis.

      June 25, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  16. JWH

    He was a prophet who was met by an angel. He wrote a book higher than the Bible. He married many women, some young.
    He changed a religion and declared the original religion as wrong – false. He declared his religion as the only truth. He was born many years after Christ. Their truth religion has splintered. He died a martyr. His name is Joseph Smith and Muhammad.

    June 25, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • Jello

      Your post couldn't be further from the truth JWH... but then again this is America and you're allowed to say whatever you want.

      June 25, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  17. JWH

    They believe they will become Gods. Blasphme – The Lord said there is NO God before or after him.
    They have a false book that said Jesus was born in Jerusalem.
    They restored Christianity in 1830s, the church they say was dead since the Apostles, yet they say America was founded as a Christian nation. Impossible.
    They baptise the lost dead, bypassing the blood of the cross....impossible.

    June 25, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Dallin H.

      Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?

      June 25, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  18. frank

    Do the Mormon elders wear Star Trek tunics like Bishop Eddie Long, or do they shop at a different joint?

    June 25, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  19. Ronnie Harper

    It is mind boggling that 21st century hominids are having this discussion at all. We can explain all of existence, even before the big bang and beyond, without invoking the god-concept – which is anachronistic at best, if not downright dangerous.

    June 25, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Veritas48

      Yes, you are enlightened. You came from the unknown first cause Force which generated the first atom and particle of energy and after trillions of years (time o cruel cruel time) spewed out some venomous DNA which created the proto-cells for your mama who by the way is cousin to the cancer cell.

      June 25, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • Veritas49

      Veritas48 is as enlightened as a rock!

      June 25, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  20. Hans

    Yeah.... several of the so-called Christian congregations in my community also bash mormons and teach their congregations to ridicule them. Very sad day when so-called Christians are the ones preaching hate and intolerance. Sad day indeed.

    June 25, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Veritas48

      "tolerance" means brain dead idiot who has no values and no clue between right and wrong. In fact you are a hypocrite because YOU ARE INTOLERANT of those with any kind of values which makes one take a stand on moral issues. That being said, culturally and "ethically" fundamental Christians are close to Mormons than they are to Methodists, U. Church of Christ, Anglicans, etc. The fact which forces take a stand against the LDS folks is that they call themselves Christians but are deceiving folk by their false doctrines and beliefs which cannot be compatible with basic Christian teachings. In terms you might possibly understand. Let's say you are a devoted Animal Rights Advocate/Terrorists and around the corner you see a group which calls itself, "Friendly Pet Shelter"; it proports to save animals. But you find out that this group takes in puppies and instead of saving them, sells them and ships them off to China for the meat market. If you called this group Anti-Animal would you be a hypocrite for not loving them and respecting their beliefs..... You probably aren't honest enough to seriously consider the question.

      June 25, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Ronnie Harper

      Intolerance of religion is not the same thing as refusing to tolerate different view points.

      June 25, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • Ronnie Harper

      I can explain 'mormonism' to you: hogwash.

      June 25, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • E

      Veritas48, you proved his point. Go find another forum to spread your hate.

      June 25, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • John Richardson

      The day Christians practice ridicule, hate and intolerance? Sounds like pretty much every day for at least the past 1900 years.

      June 25, 2011 at 8:29 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.