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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. Focus

    It's interesting to read the faith-bashing comments that follow religion articles on this CNN website. It serves as a reminder of how primitive and ignorant mankind insists on remaining. We insist on focusing on our differences, instead of our similarities; what will separate us, instead of what can bring us together; what will destroy us, instead of what will profit us. When we look at major religions, none of them are "pure." There are sects, branches, denominations, orders, names, divisions, and factions of religions, each claiming theirs is the one and only correct religion. Focusing on the differences leads to death and destruction. If you don't believe that, take a look at Look at the Shia and Sunni Muslims. Jesus, who most Muslims consider to be a prophet and Christians believe to be the Son of G-d, said,"why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?" Paul, who most Muslims consider to be a prophet and who Christians believe to be an apostle, said, "Now I plead with you, brethren, . . . that there be no divisions among you," and "where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?" Shouldn't we fix our focus, or do we prefer to remain on this path of self-destruction? (All quotes NKJ translation.)

    October 9, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Lee Cherry

      Our differences are our reality.
      "The similarities are different." (Yogo Berra)

      October 9, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Steve

      To acknowledge the distinction between religions of karma, and the religion of grace, is not trivial. Looking to the common beliefs concerning values and practices, while not trivial, does not illumunate the foundations for those beliefs.
      People who consider Jesus to be a good model of behavior, are not rightly classified as Christian, which entails a more elaborate scheme of salvation. Those who reject that scheme, the divine sacrifice, may proclaim it so proudly; no shame in that, indeed, make it clear so as to enlighten those of us who hold to the conventional view, worshipping Lucifer's brother.

      October 9, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  2. Lee Cherry

    Only way to really explain Mormanism is by the Bible. Its just another false religion and cult. Glad Mormanism is having this controversey. Hopefully the truth will come out.

    October 9, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  3. WhatWhatWhat?

    What this article didn't tell you:
    1) Joseph Smith and his family robbed people by claiming to find hidden treasure with "seer stones". No treasure was ever found.
    2) In 1826, Joseph was tried in NY for "glass-looking," the crime of pretending to find lost treasure.
    3) Joseph never consulted the gold plates the angel Moroni gave him when translating them, he only used seer stones in a hat.
    4) Joseph had to leave many places because he had robbed and cheated and lied to people so much, they would run him out of town.
    5) Joseph performed excorcisms, and was tried again in NY, but was acquitted.
    6) Mormons consider Joseph Smith to be a prophet, just like Mohammad.
    7) Mormons believe god dwells on a planet with his many spirit wives producing numerous spirit children who await to inhabit physical bodies so that they too may one day ascend to godhood as their parents did.
    8) Mormons believe that the book of mormon restored the true teachings of jesus that had been corrupted by the christians.
    9) Mormons believe all people that are honest, chaste, and live according to their own level of light will be spared in the rapture, including the muslims, jehovahs witnesses and scientologists.

    October 9, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Lee Cherry

      Thanks for that. I think modern-day occultism also started in upstate NY. Brother Joe is a victim of the devil influence over minds of men.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Captain Marvel

      Lee Cherry, Yes, it is SO inferior to your brand of occultism which began in the deserts of the Middle East!

      October 9, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  4. Steve

    If linking Jesus and Lucifer as created beings does not disqualify Mormonism as un-Christian, what does? But that is no insult–that is a fundamental belief. Mormons should be glad to make the distinction for the benefit of those they believe to be misquided.
    To say that Jesus is a good model of behavior, does not make one a Christian, as most religious folks admire his behavior.
    Evangelicals have accepted Catholic justices with conservative values, and may elect to do the same with regard to Mormons for the presidency.
    Yet one who believes that myths of Mormonism seems suspect, although all religions have rather bizarre myths in view the the ineffable and enigmatic nature of existence.

    October 9, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  5. Bill

    I wonder if you "Christians" who claim that Mormonism is a "cult" or is not "Christian" realize how absolutely ridiculous and NON-CHRISTIAN you sound?

    For those of us who are NOT Christians... all of you sound a bit misguided!

    October 9, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      If they don't acknowledge Jesus Christ as a triune God.. Father Son and Holy Spirit, that is what qualifies as a "Christian" anything else is "non-Christian" Even if they love Jesus.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Steve

      Okay Bill. "Cult" is not a nice label. But there is no insult in making distinctions between those who accept the Triune concept of God, and those who reject it. Mormons can stand proudly, as do Muslims, Unitarians, Jews and others, rejecting the divinity of Christ, which is foundational to the Christian formula of salvation by Grace alone. There is no shame in having different beliefs, and no shame in placing value in established ways of responding to the penultimate questions of life.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Captain Marvel

      Steve, Look up "penultimate". It does not mean what you think it means.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • RC

      It boils down to this: for Christianity, God is the only god, the true god, that exists outside of the natural universe, and created it. Over millennia, He spoke directly first to patriarchs, then to prophets and judges, and finally sent Jesus who passed along his teachings to his apostles. The message has always been about how to be saved from sin. The Bible is God's authoritative word to Christians, in written form, the culmination of all those millennia. There is nothing to be added to it.

      The Bible makes it clear that there is no more to be added to "God's word". Jesus only ever came to earth once. There is no need for a modern-day prophet (or pope, for that matter). So one point where Mormonism goes wrong is accepting any religious writing, OTHER than the Bible, as authoritative. Another point is of course their prophet, the head of their church. The true head of THE church is Christ, only.

      The Bible is also clear that we are responsible for our own guilt, not someone else's, and there is nothing in the Bible that supports the idea of saving someone else because you baptized them by proxy.

      Just calling a spade a spade here. There is Christianity, and then there are people that claim to worship Christ but don't understand what that really means.

      October 9, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Magic

      RC, Take your logic a bit further. Don't you see that the gullible Mormons who have latched onto Joseph Smith's writings are exactly the same kind of gullible people who latched onto the New Testament a couple of thousand years ago... and the same type of gullible people who latched onto the stories told by primitive Middle Eastern desert tribal leaders.

      There is not one shred of verified evidence for any of the supernatural beings or events which are told about in the Bible.

      October 9, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  6. R. Brubaker

    Another major difference between Christianity and Mormonism is the belief that Jesus and Satan/Lucifer are actually brothers that fought for the Fathers approval on a plan for the Earth and Satan/Lucifer lost. This mormon teaching stands against everything the Holy Bible stands for as well as in direct opposition to JOHN 3:16 For God so loved the World that he gave his ONLY begotten Son ...... Jesus Christ

    October 9, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      mormonism is a cult of man worshipping himself disquised as God.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  7. Truth

    You don't ask a biologist about the stars. You don't ask a Fords Dealer how good Dodge cars are. If you really want to know what mormons believe, go ask one.

    October 9, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Truman Angel

      I'm one, ask me.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Franco

      Truman, do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior?

      October 9, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Justsayin'

      Franco, every Mormon I know, and myself, would answer that question....YES!

      October 9, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Truman Angel

      Franco, Most Mormons would say yes, I gave up Mormonism as false and weird. But Mormons think the Jesus is a 2nd God, they are not monotheistic. They believe in many Gods. And that anyone can become a God. They do not believe that Jesus died for our sins, that he was killed and raised but not to atone for anything, everyone is responsible for their own sins.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Joseph Smith

      truth: most LDS don't know the churches roots, and furthermore, the church is very secretive, so asking you about the truth is like asking a drug addict if drugs are good. Your drug is the belief that everyone else is wrong and you are right. Your truth is false.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Michael

      Why do you guys wear 'magic underwear?" DO you really believe that it will protect you? Sounds kinda cult-ish to me.

      October 9, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Megan Call

      I usually check out a Consumer Report.

      October 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • Franco

      Thank you, Truman Angel. That is my understanding. I am an atheist, so it's all a little weird to me, but I suspect most Christians would be uncomfortable with the notion that Jesus did NOT die for their sins, and that each Mormon (male) has the chance to be the god of his own planet. Given that belief, it would stand to reason that the god of this planet is simply a Mormon who once lived on another planet, completed all his works, and got a planet to rule, and to populate with souls. Though Mormons have made a concerted effort to describe themselves as "Christians" for the past few decades, in fact, they are not Christian by the most basic Christian tenets. I also believe that if a Mormon was honest with you he would say that, yes, Jesus was the son of god, but so are we all, so no biggie. Like I said, it's all weird to me, but I think they should at least be honest about what they actually believe.

      October 9, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  8. Lori

    That list did not really EXPLAIN anything.

    October 9, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  9. Matt M.

    Mormonism has some key beliefs that demonstrate its differences from Christianity. It indicates that Jesus and Lucifer were brothers, both of whom submitted a plan for salvation to God (the plans were voted on and Jesus's won). It indicates that there are three levels of heaven: terrestrial, telestial, and celestial. It indicates that there are a finite number of souls awaiting babies' bodies. It indicates that righteous men will inherit their own planet and, with his wife or wives, will spiritually reproduce spirit babies to fill the babies' bodies on the planet. It indicates that "as man is, God was, and as God is, man will be," echoing the serpent's biblical tease, "ye shall be as gods."

    October 9, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Truth

      By the way, mormons believe that Jesus and Lucifer were brothers, because they believe that every person is a child of God, brothers and sisters.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Michael

      Isaiah 14: 12-14, Revelation 12:4-13 teach of the war in heaven between Lucifer and his followers and Jesus Christ and his followers before the world was. Lucifer was able to draw one third of the hosts of heaven then and seeks to frustrate Heavenly Father's Plan for us now in mortality. We chose to follow Heavenly Father's Plan and Jesus accepted the amazing role as Savior. Father's plan is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Read John 17:3-23, Matthew 5:48, Romans 8:16-17.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Captain Marvel

      In the fantasy world *anything* can be true.

      Batman and Superman are 'brothers'.

      Donald Duck talks.

      It is ludicrous that people actually build their lives around imaginary characters.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  10. Peter

    "Special Undergarments".... cheap jouranlism trick. The special undergarments are simply a requirement that members dress modestly both outwardly where everyone see it and beneath their clothes where only they and God knows what is going on. Its a symbolic reminder that God knows too well what is in your heart and that when coming into his presence you should be humble and modest.

    October 9, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      They wear special undergarments like long johns.

      October 9, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  11. Truth

    Some say the Mormonism is a cult because mormons believe that God came and spoke to Joseph Smith. They say mormons are crazy because of that. So then, what percentage of the world's population believe in the Old Testament? Christianity, Judea and Islam all have the Old Testament, which is full of God talking to people. Than if the mormons are crazy, so are all of those other religions. Mormons believe that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, so if God spoke in ancient times, why can't He speak now?

    October 9, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Magic

      "if the mormons are crazy, so are all of those other religions."

      BINGO!

      October 9, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • Ulises

      You have hit the nail on the head.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      God never spoke to anyone, at any time, past present or future. You are absolutely right, they are all whacked out, nonsensical, delusional fairy tales.

      October 9, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  12. Truman Angel

    The Book of Mormon has been scientifically disproved on several points
    1. Smith also used his special stones to translate 2 sets of Egyptian Papyri which were found in Egypt and bought by the early members of the church into the Book of Joseph and the Book of Abraham. At the time no one could translate Egyptian, it was a lost language. But then came the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, and the two texts were properly translated to the Book of the Dead and a set of instructions on how to embalm. If Smith made up these two translations, how can anyone believe his other translations?
    2. The Book of Mormon contains direct quotes from the Bible, some are pages long. But it quotes the King James version. Smith claims that the Book of Mormon was written over 1000 years before the King James translation, so how is this possible?
    3. According to the Book of Mormon, the native Americans are a lost tribe of Israel. DNA shows them to be Asian.
    4. There has never been even one piece of archeological evidence for the battles described in the Book of Mormon.

    October 9, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Truth

      It is true that DNA shows that most Native Americans are Asian. But there is a small group of European type DNA Native Americans in the mid-west. European type DNA includes all Middle Easterners. Do your research.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Joebird

      Because people turning into salt and Virgins giving birth and angels appearing and giving a donkey the power to speak(all from the Bible), all are scientifically proven.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Truman Angel

      Truth, I have done my research. The B of M never speaks of any other people, only 3 groups from the middle east. The population numbers of these 3 groups adds up to several million. And yet there is no evedence

      October 9, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Truman Angel

      OOPS Again
      Truth, I have done my research. The B of M never speaks of any other people, only 3 groups from the middle east. The population numbers of these 3 groups adds up to several million. And yet there is no evidence of them. And the small group of natives with European DNA are European, not middle eastern. If there were millions of Jews in America, where is the evidence?

      October 9, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • Don

      There were 5 scrolls, not two sets of papyri. The Book of Abraham was translated from a portion attached to one of the 5 scrolls. 90% of the 5 scrolls were destroyed in the great Chicago fire when the museum there burned. The fragments we have today are NOT the source of the translation. The Rosetta stone is still not agreed upon by scholars today as representative of Egyptian heiroglyphic. The Book of mormon does not teach Native Americans are Hebrew decendents and the Book of Mormon geography was NOT in N. America. Archeology has more still hidden than found.

      October 9, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  13. Check Out D&C First

    The LDS church has never revised D&C (Doctrine and Covenants), part of the scripture written by their Prophet, Joseph Smith. You need to read this because it is still full of polygamy. Also it is full of a lot of other prophecy that differs significantly from "orthodox Christianity" including: men can be "gods" in the hereafter, Joseph Smith will participate in the Final Judgement along with Jesus Christ, etc. The Book of Mormon is what the church show's to it's "investigators" (newbees). If you join the church you will spend years in the church before all the weirdness is revealed to you – yes, it's very secretive. That being said, the people in the wards are wonderful, especially to their own flock with very few exceptions.

    October 9, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Michael

      There are no secrets. Go to LDS.org and Mormon.org. All of the scriptures are there. All of the teachings of the Church's leaders are there. thopusands of testimonies of everyday members are there. Read them for yourself and judge and either agree or disagree but to falsely disparage the sincere faith of 14 million people who hold Jesus Christ as the cornerstone to their lives is just NOT credible and certainly NOT Christ-like
      .

      October 9, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Check Out D&C First

      To Micheal: I was a member of LDS for 2 years and was even baptized. No one including my bishop ever told me about the "holy" underwear until I found out about it on the internet. I beleive that was secretive AND deceptive. Ask any mormon about the underwear – they probably will not want to talk about it because it's supposed to be a secret.

      October 9, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Steve

      Michael, those are misleading statements, that Mormon Church is not secretive and is Christ-centered.
      Explain why my friend, and others, are not permitted to attend their own children's weddings, etc. And the public may
      not visit the temples, etc.
      And to claim to be Christ-centered is deceptive, because it has nothing to do with the Christian concept of
      salvation by grace alone, attonement by the sacrifice of the Divine Being.
      Mormons might more honestly just stand up for their denial of the divinity of Christ and for their peculiar beliefs concerning baptism of the departed and continuing revelations, rather than pretending to buy into the Christian position.

      October 9, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  14. Peter

    In a small town, somewhere in America, the local ministers from various faiths, Methodist, Catholic, Mormon..., routinely met together over breakfast and then followed that up with a day on the golf green. Most but not all of the local towns faiths were represented. One day while driving back from the greens, as they were having a living discussion about local community issues, the driver lost attention of the road, driving off and hitting a tree. All were killed. In split second they all were standing before the gates of heaven where they were met by angels who ushered them into the afterlife with a tour. Along the way they saw wonderful things, where everyone was singing praises to God and sharing in his blessings, but then they came by this small door with a sign. The sign read; Quiet Please. The ministers asked the angels; What's up with the sign?

    The angels replied; Baptists are in there and they think that they are the only one up here !

    October 9, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Hank

      I've heard that joke many many years ago, only it ended; "sshh, those are the mormons, they think they are the only ones up here."

      October 9, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  15. Jared

    Mormonism 101: http://mormon.org/

    October 9, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  16. brian

    Organized religion, of any ilk, is intellectual suicide. The Mormons are no better or worse than believers of any other faith.

    October 9, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Steve

      Oh Brian. Every discipline has it's history, the best thinking of the best minds. Same for every organized religion. You may choose to start from scratch, ignore history and ritual, and rely upon your personal experience and reflection, and you may or may not come up with a more sound basis for conducting your life. I believe that most successful artists, musicians, scientists, philosophers, and religious people, have "stood on the shoulders of giants." Atheism and agnostism are like giving up.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Steve, you are totally whacked out. Just because most people that came before us were even more whacked out than you, doesn't mean that you should just go with the flow. That sounds more like giving up than anything, especially when you examine the absurdity of your stupid belief system. We all start out in this world as atheists. Anything above that is additional, unnecessary baggage that people delude themselves with as a buffer against the real world.

      October 9, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Captain Marvel

      Steve, No... saying, "goddidit" as the answer to *everything* is giving up.

      October 9, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Steve, believing what you're told certainly equates to giving up. Question everything, even if brings you back to where you started. Blind faith isn't faith at all.

      October 9, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  17. Latter Day Saint

    To Magic:
    What about a wedding ring? Wedding rings remind people of the promises they made when they were married. They are a symbol, just like the undergarments.

    October 9, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • DivideByZero

      Who ever said a wedding ring offers magical protection? It is the Mormon faith that indicates the holy garment offers both spiritual and physical protection to the faithfuls wearer. I fail to see a valid comparison between a wedding ring and magical underwear.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  18. whatshisnamemedia

    the reason all of the Church buildings say "Visitors Welcome" is because of a common misconception that it is closed from the public like our temples.

    October 9, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Hank

      "Visitors Welcome," the catch is, they like to get your name, email, address, and phone number so they can send a missionary to your door.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  19. H. Oshrin

    ok ok

    October 9, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  20. H. Oshrin

    Mormonism is no more and no less ridiculous than any of the mainstream religions and theologies now and throughout history. By the way, what difference does it make what religion the candidate or office holder says he professes? How good is the job he is doing?

    October 9, 2011 at 1:26 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.