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. history buff

    Harry Reid (D) Senate Majority Leader is a Mormon, funny CNN forgot to state that. CNN and NBC both tried to enlight their followers about Mormonism, both did an exceptionally poor job. The majority of the reader's comments seem to originate from very ignorant and biggoted individuals. Would CNN, NBC, or these people comment with such disdain about Islam, Hinduism, Judism, or Christianity? Would they mock special headdresses, clothing, or rituals associated with these other religions? Thinking they, CNN, and NBC all align themselves with the party of fairness and inclusion. BTW, I'm agnostic.

    August 31, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  2. Zerzie

    Hello CNN, you did a really poor job of explaining the the Mormon religion...only briefly touching on the 'special undergarments'. Call them what they are....Mormons are required to wear special underwear under their clothing...also let's discuss the 'seven levels of heaven' that the Book of Mormon refers to and that women and people of color will never reach the 7th level of heaven. Women can reach the 7th level if thier 'husband calls them up to the 7th level to be with him' and people of color can never make it....let's talk about the Mormon Temple in SLC and how only practicing devout Mormon's re allowed in...a friend of mine comes from a Mormon family but he isn't Mormon. His brothers and sisters who are practicing Mormons have gotten married to their spouses in the Temple and because he isn't a Mormon he wasn't allowed to attend....sounds like a really welcoming group of folks to me!!! NOT!

    August 31, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • 2smart4this

      I know what you are saying. My son converted and when he married, I was not allowed at his wedding in the Mormon temple. It is noted how generous Romney is because he gives so much to his church. Mormons have to give a percentage of their income to get in the temple, plus a list of other requirements. I don't know of another religion that would ban people from entering their church if they haven't followed a checklist of requirements. The only reason they stopped polgamy because is was outlawed. The Mormon men didn't suddenly realize this was wrong. There are so many things people don't know about this religion.

      August 31, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • VoiceOfReason

      I wasn't aware that we believed in 7 levels of heaven. I actually think that we believe in 3 degrees of glory. You can find this referenced in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 15:40-41. Paul was teaching about the resurrection. Also, all people need to be married in order to reach the highest degree. People of color CAN in fact make it to the highest degree of heaven if they live their lives the way we are all supposed to. I don't know where you got your information but a great place to find out the truth about The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-Day Saints is their website: lds.org. This has more correct information than you would receive from anti-websites.

      @2smart4this – We are not banned from entering our own church. The temple is not the same thing as our church buildings. We have church buildings all across the world that anyone and everyone is also to come in and learn and listen to our beliefs. We welcome visitors in our Chapels no matter who they are. The temple is a more sacred place where only people who are living their lives in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ are allowed to enter. Our church doesn't require us to be perfect to enter our churches or temples, but if does help us to try to be better people. I don't see how that is a bad thing. Is that not the aim of all religious organizations...to help their followers be better and return to heaven.

      August 31, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  3. Honey Badger Dont Care

    And people actually believe this B S? This is worse than normal xtianity. I mean xtianity is crazy but this is like crazy +.

    August 31, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  4. Tirilei

    Looks like copy-pasting from their book at http://www.lds.org adds letters in places where they have footnotes, so I'll try again. This is how the book says the Native Americans (whom they call Lamanites) ended up with brown skin (but luckily, once they convert and go to Mormon heaven, they'll be white again.)
    From 2 Nephi 5:

    21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

    22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.

    23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.

    24 And because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.

    August 31, 2012 at 1:38 am |
    • G

      Read the entire book, not just a few verses out of context.

      The curse spoken of, is not the changing of skin color. That is the mark of the curse, to distinguish that they had been cursed. There is nothing "cursed" about having darker skin. In fact, if the people had already been generally much darker, the mark of the curse likely would have been whiter skin.

      It is the same as the mark of a curse that is put on Cain in the early pages of the Bible.

      August 31, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  5. Tirilei

    From the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 5:

    21 And he had caused the acursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and bdelightsome, that they might not be centicing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

    22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be aloathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.

    23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that amixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.

    24 And because of their acursing which was upon them they did become an bidle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.

    August 31, 2012 at 1:32 am |
  6. Divorce rates

    A lot of good discussion and I won't claim to be loyal to one side or another, but I've got to say to the person posting about the majority of divorces being in the bible belt, or by people who claim to be of a specific denomination – um.... Yeah, that would make sense since most other folks aren't finding it necessary to ever even marry! Easy to have a skewed divorce rate when that demographic contains the ones willing to even try to make a commitment.

    August 31, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  7. David Nelson

    Really! This is dumbed down to 5th grade level!

    August 27, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  8. David Nelson

    And this is an explanation of Mormonism? Who slapped this pathetic excuse for an explanation together? Nothing about quasi-masonic rituals, nothing about Mormonisms bizarre beliefs about race. Nothing about Joseph Smith lying about polygamy and still claiming to be a prophet... ... and this is only scratching the surface, which is probably all one should expect from CNN, or Fox, etc.... Pathetic

    August 27, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  9. kr0636

    Romney's Mormonism
    Great news". Romney is about to open up about his Mormon faith. Romney is not just an ordinary Mormon; he is a Bishop. He believes that when he dies, he will be a God and have his own planet in addition to thousands of wives. Until very recently, he would not allow blacks into his church; they were thought to be cursed and the tools of the Devil. A person’s action is always an expression of their beliefs. Do Americans really want a man with such weird beliefs as their President?

    August 26, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • dillet


      August 31, 2012 at 2:24 am |
    • Lewis Keseberg

      Americans previously elected a person from the opposite party who's religion practices weekly ritualalistic cannibalism. The planet and mutliple wives things seem, frankly, pretty pedestrian in comparison

      August 31, 2012 at 2:27 am |
    • 2Sliqq

      I guess becoming president would be a step closer to his destined "godhood"...

      August 31, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  10. Drew Foell

    I want to point out a couple of flaws in the video: first, Joseph Smith *did not* practice or approve of polygamy. Polygamy was actually introduced by Brigham Young (who was never mentioned in the video or the article). It was also Brigham Young who expediently outlawed polygamy. There is a fascinating first-hand, yes first-hand and unbiased, account of early Mormonism in Mark Twain's "Roughing It." I highly recommend reading at least the appendices and the one chapter devoted entirely to the LDS.

    August 24, 2012 at 3:17 am |
    • dillet

      Twain's account is a parody and a farce, as he intended it to be. If you want truth and depth, may I suggest reading Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Lyman Bushman? It is the most thorough, even-handed history of both Joseph
      Smith and the LDS Church currently available. Some readers may even appreciate that he consults and quotes anti-mormon sources!

      August 31, 2012 at 2:26 am |
  11. Donald Hawkins

    Mormon baptismal ritual includes being anointed with oil from head to foot and then being washed with a hose. Following the ritual there is a reenactment of the temptation scene in the Garden of Eden. The "devil" looks like a vaudevillian character,dressed all in black. Each solar system has its own god, but we need worry only about ours; who has flesh and blood but no bones. Mormonism rejects the concept of the Trinitarian God, a bedrock of Christianity. Mormonism is a Christian sect or cult but not a church like the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Lutherans, Disciples of Christ, and others. Mormons are good and devoted people, buty they ae not Christians.

    August 21, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Take it easy

      Donald, where did you read that? Sounds like whoever wrote what you read took a few things out of context and then built up something very crazy that is not true. It sounds like a story a child tells about a centipede they thought they saw in their bedroom. The child says a 15 foot snake with glowing purple eyes was slithering across the floor hissing!

      Mormon baptism – you are confusing several things here and you are certainly not washed with a hose. You must be misunderstanding something else about the temple with your description of a reenactment. Each solar system definitely does NOT have its own God. And it is not flesh and blood but no bones. Not correct. Mormonism points out that God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are three separate beings. John Chapter 17 is a mess otherwise. This does differ from most religions who believe in Christ. Mormonism is not like the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Lutherans, Disciples of Christ, and others because church meetings are much quieter, the hymns are not rock and roll and Mormons believe God still speaks to his people. Just because Mormons emphasize different parts of the same Bible regarding who we are, where we came from and where we are going, does not mean they do not believe in the same Jesus Christ.

      Imagine you played on the same football team as Steve Young, then imagine you met someone who worked at ESPN with him. They may have different details to tell about him. That is how Mormons are Christians. All you have to do is believe in Jesus and you are a Christian. Mormons just do not want to say they are the same as other Christians.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • aaroncutshall

      Oh my heavens! If that's the insanity that's being perpetuated about Latter-day Saints, it's no wonder people have no idea what we're about! Each and every one of your "points" have been horibbly skewed in a twisted hall of mirrors!!

      Latter-day Saints (or Mormons if you prefer) are not unique in their beliefs of the Holy Trinity being separate and distinct beings. For example, the United Church of God also observe this belief. Baptism of the dead is not something new (see 1 Corinthians 15:29) as the Corinthians understood the principle as well. Such baptism is not binding without acceptance and does not force anything upon anyone. The ordinance is performed just in case it is accepted.

      Like someone else here stated, please get your facts from a practicing member and not the results of a series of twisted convolutions and suppositions. After all, would you go to a Baptist to learn about Catholics, or a Jew to learn about Islam? Of course not! That would be like going to France to learn Russian!

      August 27, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Brian

      Yeah, that's the worst parroting of anti-Mormon boilerplate I have ever heard. You didn't even get the inaccuracies accurate.

      August 30, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • dillet

      Where do you get such drivel? Your assertions are absolute nonsense! Anti-mormon books and websites are notoriously filled with misinterpretations, misunderstandings, and bald faced lies, all presented as the"real"story. Get a life, Donald.

      August 31, 2012 at 2:30 am |
  12. sailorman3

    My ancestors came west with the Mormon wagon train. I was born andf lived in Utah. If you believe in the Bible, the Mormon religion is a false religion. He who makes a prophesy in the name of God and it is proven false than that person is a flase prophet. ie J. Smith.

    August 21, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • RealityCheck

      News Flash: All religion is false....just smoke and mirrors designed to keep morons in check and keep the peasants from rising up to seize the kingdom. It just happened to transfer so well into modern times that people keep it around to generate cash. I guess that's the one thing god can't create....cash....he's always using churches to get it from us.

      August 21, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Take it easy

      Reality check needs a reality check. Realize that the stronger technology gets the greater the growth of Christianity. Also, there is a reason why companies are more likely to hire religious people than those who are not. They have standards that keep them coming to work, keep them out of danger and allow them to have happy families which makes them happy overall. Those on the outside get lost and confused about strange sounding theories like the big bang and aliens no matter how ridiculous it sounds. They go on and try to figure out some revolutionary thing like reinvent the wheel. The smartest ones finally come to the conclusion that there is a God and the rest of us say "great job, my brother, I now warmly welcome to what I knew as a child."

      August 21, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Really?

      "Reality check needs a reality check. Realize that the stronger technology gets the greater the growth of Christianity"

      Actually Christianity has remained flat and hasn't grown when put in context of the population growth. You might want to do some fact checking first. Christians only make up 33% of people on the planet.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Really?

      "They have standards that keep them coming to work, keep them out of danger and allow them to have happy families which makes them happy overall."

      These statistics came, by the way from a Evangelical Christian research institute, the Barna Group, in the year 2000:

      Denomination (in order of decreasing divorce rate)

      Non-denominational** 34%
      Baptists 29%
      Mainline Protestants 25%
      Mormons 24%
      Catholics 21%
      Lutherans 21%

      Barna's results verified findings of earlier polls: that CONSERVATIVE PROTESTANT CHRISTIANS, ON AVERAGE, HAVE THE HIGHEST DIVORCE RATE, while mainline Christians have a much lower rate. They found some new information as well: that ATHIESTS AND AGNOSTICS HAVE THE LOWEST DIVORCE RATES OF ALL. George Barna commented that the results raise "questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families." The data challenge "the idea that churches provide truly practical and life-changing support for marriage." [...]

      The data showed that the HIGHEST DIVORCE RATES WERE FOUND IN THE BIBLE BELT.* "Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama and Oklahoma round out the Top Five in frequency of divorce...the divorce rates in these conservative states are roughly 50 percent above the national average" of 4.2/1000 people.

      * Note: Divorce rates were still higher in the Bible Belt as of 2009 according to a US Census report.

      I don't remember much discussion of marriage rights for same sex couples back in 2000, do you? Perhaps among gay activists but not in the national news. Maybe, just maybe, the people who fired the first shot in any so-called war on marriage were conservative Christians, and they were shooting themselves in the foot at that! After all, the divorce rate is lower among (drum roll please) atheists and agnostics than among Christians - yes, lower even then Catholics!

      The Barna Research Group, an evangelical Christian organization that does surveys and research to better understand what Christians believe and how they behave, studied divorce rates in America in 1999 and found surprising evidence that divorce is far lower among atheists than among conservative Christians – exactly the opposite of what they were probably expecting

      August 21, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • dillet

      It's too bad you apparently confused the peculiarities of Utah Mormon culture with the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. You missed the important part.

      August 31, 2012 at 2:35 am |
  13. Amarah Fulopq

    It's a shame you don't have a donate button! I'd definitely donate to this superb blog! I guess for now i'll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to fresh updates and will share this blog with my Facebook group. Chat soon!

    July 17, 2012 at 1:18 am |
  14. subtleBias

    To the writer of the article: The voice in this list has an air of subtle bias and not objectivity. Most of the statements are true, with an underlying tone of disdain. I would be interested to know the writer's religious affiliation.
    #1 – you got one right.
    #2 – neglects to mention Mormons use the bible equally with Book of Mormon.
    #3 – mentions most live outside the US, written in an abrupt way, making it sound like this is a bad thing. An arrogant american that never lived outside the US?
    #4 – made an effort to include unimportant details to add a ring of insanity to it.
    #5 – Bravo, I'm glad you figured out that Big Love and Sister Wives are not of the same belief. I'll take this over the rest of the list more than anything else.
    #6 – Emphasis on location changes, and not the fascinating idea that their persecution led to a law making it technically legal to kill a mormon, and fairly recent revocation.
    #7 – I'm glad there was mention of "less pressure" for a woman to go on a mission, not how unique it is for 19-21 yo’s paying their own way for 2 years with only 4 calls home, no travel privileges, and stricter rules than any other religious group.
    #8 – I’m glad Gladys Knight was mentioned as a convert, but not the fact that so was controversial glen beck. And I’m surprised she made the cut, not Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Steve Young, among others.
    #9 – infers surprise that all Mormons aren’t identical, as if tenants of any religion do not have variation in their orthodoxy.
    #10 – Really? One of the 10 things people would want to know about Mormonism is that their running more ads? C’mon.

    June 28, 2012 at 1:13 am |
    • Take it easy

      I don't see any bias against the church in this article. I think they did a good job. Not every detail can be included and I certainly don't think they have to. Especially since it is likely that he author is not very familiar with the church. Also, #10 may have just been used to make the list equal 10. And why not? It may cause readers to keep their eye out for advertisement. This article to me sounds much more friendly than most articles about the LDS Church.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  15. Bev

    It breaks my heart to realize that some feel these negative ways about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am sorry. PLEASE ask SOMEONE WHO LIVES THE TENETS OF THE CHURCH to explain to you. The things I read on this screen are the same-old, same-old that has been circulating forever. First, I need to say, "Mormon" is not something evil. It is the name of an ancient Prophet who lived in the Americas and wrote part of the Book of Mormon which Joseph translated. If you would only take the time - without bias - to search out answers, you would find them. **The 'magic underwear' referred to is not claimed to be magic. It is sacred. Clergymen in some churches wear a white collar, a symbol of their devotion to God. Are people offended by that? Our garments are reminders of sacred covenants made in the holy Temple, and are not visible and should offend no one. (Why do they . . .??) ** Joseph worked for a man for awhile helping dig in search of what the man thought might be Spanish treasure buried on his land. That's all. ** The issue of black people is in the hands of God, not us. There was a purpose in the timing of their receiving the Priesthood, unknown to us. We follow the Prophet, who is His mouthpiece. Blacks are coming into the Gospel in large numbers, all over the world - Africa is producing many very happy members, sweet, beautiful, humble people who understand the whole thing and are not complaining. Space is limited here so I can't continue . . . PLEASE - let's not contend. We are all God's children. He loves us and wants us Home with Him. Please go to the correct sources for answers. Thank you. God bless.

    June 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  16. Bid Wthtkas

    What a country of opposites attracting. We now have our first Black president and are one step away from having a Mormon president whose religion didn't allow Blacks into priesthood until 1978. The few mormons I know personally and professionally have no hesitation in voicing their beliefs that black skin is of the devil.

    June 25, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • subtleBias

      Nobody believes you.

      June 28, 2012 at 1:43 am |
    • Take it easy

      Bid, I think it is unlikely that you have known active, normal members of the church. Your statement is the same as someone saying ALL Americans are racist. When the reality is that most mainstream Americans are not racist and neither are Mormons.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  17. Robert Sands

    I think everyone should wear magic underwear.

    June 22, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • Take it easy

      Mormons agree with you. Clean up your life, meet with some missionaries, get baptized, and come to the temple. 😉

      August 21, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  18. ezed7443

    Didn't read all the postings, but what about the "Lost Tribe" that Joseph Smith declaredt be in the United States?

    June 22, 2012 at 3:09 am |
    • Take it easy

      Joseph Smith declared that the knowledge of God was not just localized where the Bible writings took place. That many other lands on earth knew of his birth and death.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  19. Rocky

    They forgot to add that Joseph Smith was convicted of money digging (a scam that involved duping people out of their money based on visions of buried treasure) around the same time period that he was having his "visions" to translate religious texts.

    June 22, 2012 at 2:40 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Excellent training for any religious leader aka charlatan, snake oil salesman, liar, delusional believer of childish myths.

      June 22, 2012 at 2:43 am |
    • subtleBias

      Just to be sure, is it even possible to be "convicted" of money digging? If not, then your post needs clarification if it is to ever be taken seriously.

      June 28, 2012 at 2:39 am |
    • dillet

      Joseph Smith himself reported that as a teenager “I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into diverse temptations, offensive in the sight of God.” May I suggest reading Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Lyman Bushman? It is the most thorough, even-handed history of both Joseph Smith and the LDS Church currently available. Some readers may even appreciate that he consults and quotes anti-mormon sources!

      August 31, 2012 at 2:44 am |
  20. Tunes

    (ahem). Romney.

    June 21, 2012 at 10:52 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.