The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly called the Mormon Church) was organized on April 6, 1830, by Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith was raised as a farm boy in upstate New York, but he was chosen of God to be the first prophet of the latter days. When he was only 14 years old, Joseph received a vision of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ in answer to a prayer he offered, asking which of all the many churches he should join. He was told in this vision that no church upon the earth had the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he was instructed not to join any of them. Over the next ten years, Joseph received many further visions of heavenly beings who gave him further instruction.
Joseph Smith was led to a record kept on brass plates which was kept by the ancient inhabitants of the Americas. Some of these ancient inhabitants had been led out of Jerusalem by the hand of the Lord in 600 B.C, before the destruction of the city. Once in the Americas, these people broke into two factions: the Nephites and the Lamanites. After hundreds of years of cycling between righteousness and unrighteousness, peace and war, the Lamanites completely destroyed the Nephites. The last remaining Nephite was a man named Moroni, also called of God. It was his responsibility to record the fate of his people, due to their wickedness, and to hide up the record until the Lord would bring it forth again. The Angel Moroni led Joseph Smith to this record and instructed him on how to translate the record. This work was published as the Book of Mormon prior to the Mormon Church’s organization.
The Book of Mormon is a second witness that Jesus is the Christ and is a record of Christ’s dealings with the inhabitants of the Americas. It is meant to be a companion book to the Bible, but it contains many plain and precious truths which were lost from the Bible.
Once the Mormon Church was organized, missionaries were sent immediately to other areas in the United States, to Canada, and to England. For scores of years, many converts from around the world gathered together in the Americas. The early Saints were heavily persecuted for their belief that God was still speaking to His children in our day through a prophet. The thought that the heavens were open again was ludicrous to many people, especially the thought that God would speak to a person such as Joseph. However, a study of the Bible shows that God always appeared to men of humble circumstances who were looked down upon by their peers to preach repentance unto His people.
Though the Saints were a peaceful and industrious people, they were continually driven from their homes, from New York to Ohio, then to Missouri, and again to Illinois. When Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were murdered in Illinois, the Saints were forced to flee again. This time they left what was then the United States for what soon afterwards became the Utah Territory. They fled to the desert, to a place which no one else wanted. They made the desert blossom as a rose, as Isaiah foretold. They were continually punished in Utah, in particular for their practice of Mormon polygamy. One of the biggest prejudices against Mormons today stems from the misunderstanding of polygamy. It has not been practiced by Mormons for more than 100 years. Those who practice polygamy today may call themselves Mormons, but are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Polygamy is an offense punishable by excommunication. When it was practiced, it was only practiced by a very few members of the Mormon Church, and was not anything like it has been portrayed. No woman was ever forced into a polygamous marriage, and divorce was available to those who found it too hard to live. Mormon women have in fact always enjoyed a great deal of freedom and support, especially compared to other women at that time. They were given the vote very early, and when it was taken away, they fought hard to get it back.
Once the Saints settled in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, they began to settle all over the Great Basin. Colonies sprang up everywhere, and missionary work continued in full force. The Mormon Church continued to grow and to share its message with the world.
Today the Mormon Church has one of the best welfare programs in the world. The governing principle is to help people help themselves. Mormon doctrine teaches that work is an eternal principle and is directly connected to our self-work. When we are providing for ourselves and our families, we feel much better about ourselves. Idleness is a tool of the devil to pull us down. The Mormon Church also runs a worldwide and world-recognized humanitarian aid program, which is nearly always one of the first responders to natural disasters, war, etc., regardless of location. Help is offered to all of God’s children, whether they are members of the Mormon Church or not. The organization is so well run that it is often allowed in much earlier than others who wish to help who, despite good intentions, often add to the chaos.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is very focused on building Mormon temples. The revelation received by President Gordon B. Hinckley to build small temples has allowed this work to progress quickly. By cutting back on time and costs in building larger temples, smaller temples have been built in many countries in the last ten years, with 160 temples now in operation, under construction, or announced. Mormon temples are important to Mormon doctrine because Latter-day Saints believe that the ordinances received in the temple are essential to an individual’s salvation.
At the end of 2010, membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints exceeded 14 million. There are now, and have been for some time, more members of the Mormon Church outside of the United States than inside it, making Mormonism truly a worldwide religion. Mormon missionaries serve in nearly every country of the world, preaching the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.
Mormons have been in the media a lot lately, which is helping to dispel some of the misconceptions about them. Mormons are not cultish; they are all around us. Though they make up a small percentage of the population, they are normal people, living everyday lives. They are happy because of the knowledge they have of God’s plan for them.