History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

From Academic Kids

The early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is shared by the larger Latter Day Saint movement, which originated in upstate New York under the leadership of Joseph Smith, Jr.. With the important assistance of Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon, Smith dictated and published works of scripture, claimed to be visited by angels, and formed a new church. In part because of the rapid growth of the movement, and in part because of its distinct doctrines and practices, the early Latter Day Saints encountered opposition wherever they gathered in numbers. In the first decades of their history, they gathered to and were driven from Kirtland, Ohio, Independence, Missouri, Far West, Missouri, and Nauvoo, Illinois. Finally, on July 26, 1844, their founding prophet was assassinated in a prison at Carthage, Illinois.

After the death of Joseph Smith, Jr., there was some confusion over who should be his successor, leading to the formation of several factions. The largest group of Mormons followed Brigham Young, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. A significant fraction, including the majority of Joseph Smith's family, followed other leaders, such as James J. Strang, Sidney Rigdon, Alpheus Cutler, Lyman Wight, William Smith, and Granville Hedrick. Eventually, many of the scattered Latter Day Saints coalesced behind Joseph Smith's son Joseph Smith III to form the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now the Community of Christ, the second-largest Mormon denomination today.

See History of the Latter Day Saint movement.

Contents

Migration to Utah and Colonization of the West (c. 1846 to c. 1856)

Under the leadership of Brigham Young, Church leaders planned to leave Nauvoo, Illinois in April of 1846, but amid threats from the state militia, they were forced to cross the Mississippi River in the cold of February. They eventually left the boundaries of the United States to what is now Utah where they founded Salt Lake City.

The groups that left Illinois for Utah became know as the Mormon Pioneers and forged a path to Salt Lake City known as the Mormon Trail. The arrival of the original Mormon Pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847 is commemorated by the Utah State holiday Pioneer Day.

Groups of converts from the United States, Canada, Europe, and elsewhere were encouraged to gather to Utah in the decades following. Both the original Mormon migration and subsequent convert migrations resulted in much sacrifice and quite a number of deaths. Brigham Young organized a great colonization of the American West, with Mormon settlements extending from Canada to Mexico. Notable cities that sprang from early Mormon settlements include San Diego, California and Las Vegas, Nevada.

Brigham Young's early theocratic leadership

Originally, Brigham Young stated that he, nor any other man could be the successor of Joseph Smith and the position he held in the Church and dispensation. Eventually, after the majority of Mormons moved to Utah, Brigham Young was sustained as a member of the First Presidency on December 25, 1847, (Wilford Woodruff Diary, Church Archives), and then as President of the Church on October 8, 1848. (Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, 3:318).

One of the reasons the Saints had chosen the Great Basin as a settling place was that the area was at the time outside the territorial borders of the United States, which Young had blamed for failing to protect Mormons from political opposition from the states of Missouri and Illinois. However, in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico ceded the area to the United States. As a result, Brigham Young sent emissaries to Washington, D.C. with a proposal to create a vast State of Deseret, of which Young would naturally be the first governor. Instead, however, Congress created the much smaller Utah Territory in 1850, and Young was appointed governor in 1851. Because of his religious position, however, Young exercised much more practical control over the affairs of Mormon and non-Mormon settlers than a typical territorial governor of the time.

The Church's attempt to restructure society on the fringes of the United States (c. 1856 to c. 1890)

The Mormon Reformation

In 1856-1858, the Church underwent what is commonly called the Mormon Reformation. See Peterson, Paul H. "The Mormon Reformation of 1856-1857: The Rhetoric and the Reality." 15 Journal of Mormon History 59-87 (1989).

Early political conflicts between Mormons and outsiders

  • Early political leadership by Brigham Young

In 1857-1858, the Church was involved in a bloodless conflict with the U.S. government, entitled the Utah War.

  • Instatement of a non-Mormon territorial governor

In September 1857, paranoia over the Utah War led local officials in southern Utah to join with Indians to massacre a company of settlers traveling from Arkansas. See Mountain Meadows Massacre.

Brigham Young's later years

Brigham Young died in August 1877.

After the death of Brigham Young, the First Presidency was not reorganized until 1880, when Young was succeeded by President John Taylor, who in the interim had served as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Polygamy and the United States "Mormon question"

Main article: Plural marriage

For several decades, polygamy was preached as God's law. Brigham Young, the Prophet of the church at that time, had quite a few wives, as did many other church leaders. The general membership required special authorization from their priesthood leader to engage in polygamy and such permission was granted sparsely (estimates say between 1% and 5% of the male membership).

This early practice of polygamy caused conflict between church members and the wider American society. In 1854 the Republican party referred in its platform to polygamy and slavery as the "twin relics of barbarism." In 1862, the U.S. Congress enacted the Morrill Act, signed by Abraham Lincoln, which made bigamy a felony in the territories punishable by $500 or five years in prison. The law also permitted the confiscation of church property without just compensation. This law was not enforced however, by the Lincoln administration or by Mormon-controlled territorial probate courts. Moreover, as Mormon polygamist marriages were performed in secret, it was difficult to prove when a polygamist marriage had taken place. In the meantime, Congress was preoccupied with the American Civil War.

In 1874, after the war, Congress passed the Poland Act, which transferred jurisdiction over Morrill Act cases to federal prosecutors and courts, which were not controlled by Mormons. In addition, the Morrill Act was upheld in 1879 by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Reynolds v. United States. After Reynolds, Congress became even more aggressive against polygamy, and passed the Edmunds Act in 1882. The Edmunds Act prohibited not just bigamy, which remained a felony, but also bigamous cohabitation, which was prosecuted as a misdemeanor, and did not require proof an actual marriage ceremony had taken place. The Act also vacated the Utah territorial government, created an independent committee to oversee elections to prevent Mormon influence, and disenfranchised any former or present polygamist. Further, the law allowed the government to deny civil rights to polygamists without a trial.

The Edmunds Act only made the Mormon leadership more determined to continue the practice of polygamy. On October 13, 1882, church president John Taylor pronounced a revelation (included in five foreign editions of the Doctrine and Covenants, but not in any English-language edition), which required all priesthood officers to begin practicing polygamy if they had not already done so.

In 1887, Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act, which allowed prosecutors to force plural wives to testify against their husbands, abolished the right of women to vote, disincorporated the church, and confiscated the church's property. By this time, many church leaders had gone into hiding to avoid prosecution, and half the Utah prison population was composed of polygamists.

Thus, under extreme pressure by the United States, church leadership officially ended the practice in 1890, based on a revelation by Wilford Woodruff, a position which also allowed Utah to be granted U.S. statehood in 1896. However, polygamy continued to be unofficially sanctioned or allowed by members of the First Presidency at least into the first decade of the 20th Century, with many polygamous marriages taking place in Mexico to avoid legal complications. (Quinn 1985). The Church practice of unofficially sanctioning allowing new polygamous marriages ended by about 1910. At about the same time, the church prohibited its members from cohabiting with plural wives to which they had previously been married.

In modern times, the Church has consistently excommunicated all its members who have attempted to marry more than one wife, or to cohabitate with a plural wife. Although there were rare tacitly-accepted polygamous cohabitations by active church members as late as 1930, in 1935, the state of Utah made polygamous cohabitation a felony. Therefore, there have been no active polygamists in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for several generations. Moreover, in the 21st Century, the Church has officially endorsed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution forever banning marriage except between one man and one woman. Nevertheless, the church has never abandoned its practice of performing polygamous sealings, in which a widower can be sealed to a second wife after the first wife dies. According to widely-accepted Mormon belief, a trio thus formed will begin a polygamous relationship in the afterlife.

The Church and the modern world (c. 1890 to c. 1960)

When the Church renounced polygamy in 1890, and Utah received statehood in 1896, Latter-day Saints for the first time saw an opportunity to begin entering the modern American mainstream.

The beginnings of Mormon involvement in and attention to national politics

Until about 1890, Utah politics was divided between the Mormon People's party (composed of Mormons) and the Gentile Liberal party (composed of non-Mormons). After the 1890 Manifesto, Mormons began their involvement in both the United States Republican Party and United States Democratic Party.

In 1898, Utah elected general authority B.H. Roberts to the United States House of Representatives as a Democrat. Roberts, however, was denied a seat there because he was practicing polygamy.

Mormons and the women's suffrage movement

As a result of the church's practice of polygamy, and the fact that women were a large untapped demographic group in Utah, women's suffrage was always in the best political interests of the Church. Thus, in 1870, the Utah Territory had become one of the first polities to grant women the right to vote—a right which the U.S. Congress revoked in 1887 as part of the Edmunds-Tucker Act.

As a result, a number of LDS women became active and vocal proponents of women's rights. Of particular note was the LDS journalist and suffragist Emmeline Blanch Wells, editor of the Woman's Exponent, a Utah feminist newspaper. Wells, who was both a feminist and a polygamist, wrote vocally in favor of a woman's role in the political process and public discourse. National suffrage leaders, however, were somewhat perplexed by the seeming paradox between Utah's progressive stand on women's rights, and the church's stand on polygamy.

In 1890, after the church officially renounced polygamy, U.S. suffrage leaders began to embrace Utah's feminism more directly, and in 1891, Utah hosted the Rocky Mountain Suffrage Conference in Salt Lake City, attended by such national feminist leaders as Susan B. Anthony and Anna Howard Shaw. The Utah Woman Suffrage Association, which had been formed in 1889 as a branch of the American Woman Suffrage Association (which in 1890 became the National American Woman Suffrage Association), was then successful in demanding that the constitution of the nascient state of Utah should enfranchise women. In 1896, Utah became the third state in the U.S. to grant women the right to vote.

Mormons and the debate over temperance and prohibition

The LDS church was actively involved in support of the temperance movement in the 19th Century, and then the prohibition movement in the early 20th Century.

Mormonism and the national debate over socialism and communism

Mormonism has had a mixed relationship with socialism in its various forms. In the earliest days of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, Jr. had established a form of religious communism, an idea made popular during the Second Great Awakening, combined with a move toward theocracy. Mormons referred to this form of theocratic communism as the United Order, or the Law of Consecration. While short-lived during the life of Joseph Smith, the United Order was re-established for a time in several communities of Utah during the theocratic political leadership of Brigham Young.

In addition to religious socialism, many Mormons in Utah were receptive to the secular socialist movement that began in America during the 1890s. During the 1890s to the 1920s, the Utah Social Democratic Party, which became part of the Socialist Party of America in 1901, elected about 100 socialists to state offices in Utah. An estimated 40% of Utah Socialists were Mormon.

While religious and secular socialism gained some acceptance among Mormons, the Church was more circumspect about Marxist Communism, because of its association with violent revolution. From the time of Joseph Smith, Jr., the church had taken a favorable view as to the American Revolution and the necessity at times to violently overthrow the government. Thus, in 1917, after the Russian Revolution, LDS apostle David O. McKay initially told an audience in general conference that "It looks as if Russia will have a government 'by the people, of the people, and for the people." (April 7, 1917 Conference Report).

Eventually, however, the Church began to view the revolutionary nature of Communism as a threat to the United States Constitution, which the Church respected about as much as it respected American revolutionaries. In 1936, the First Presidency issued a statement stating:

[I]t would be necessary to destroy our government before communism could be set up in the United States.
Since Communism, established, would destroy our American Constitutional government, to support communism is treasonable to our free institutions, and no patriotic American citizen may become either a communist or supporter of communism. . . .
Communism being thus hostile to loyal American citizenship and incompatible with true Church membership, of necessity no loyal American citizen and no faithful Church member can be a Communist. (First Presidency, "Warning to Church Members," July 3, 1936, Improvement Era 39, no. 8 (August 1936): 488).

As an extension of the Church's opposition to revolutionary Marxism beginning in 1936, modern Latter-day Saints generally focus on the differences between secular communism and the religious communism of the religion's early years. While both economic systems abolish the private ownership of property, many Mormons feel that communal ownership of property by a church or theocracy is fundamentally different, and even diametrically opposed to, communal ownership by a non-theocratic government. The point has frequently been raised that entry into the various Mormon systems of communism has always been voluntary: while one could always choose to leave the religion, one could not always choose to leave the jurisdiction of a secular communist system.

The effect of modernism on Mormon doctrine

Beginning soon after the turn of the Twentieth Century, four influential Latter-day Saint scholars began to systematize, modernize, and codify Mormon doctrine: B.H. Roberts, James E. Talmage, John A. Widtsoe, and Joseph Fielding Smith.

The Church and scientific rationalism

In 1821s, the church called chemistry professor John Andreas Widtsoe as an apostle. Widsoe's writings, particularly Rational theology and Joseph Smith as Scientist, reflected the optimistic faith in science and technology that was pervasive at the time in American life. According to Widsoe, all Mormon theology could be reconciled within a rational, positivist framework.

The Church and evolution

The issue of evolution has been a point of controversy within the Church. The first official statement on the issue of evolution was in 1909, which marked the centennial of Charles Darwin's birth and the 50th anniversary of his masterwork, the Origin of Life. On that year, the First Presidency led by Joseph F. Smith as President, issued a statement reinforcing the predominant religious view of creationism, and calling human evolution one of the "theories of men", but falling short of declaring evolution untrue or evil. "It is held by some", they said, "that Adam was not the first man upon the earth, and that the original human was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men." Notably, the Church did not opine on the evolution of animals other than humans, nor did it endorse a particular theory of creationism.

Soon after the 1909 statement, Joseph F. Smith professed in certain editorials that "the Church itself has no philosophy about the modus operandi employed by the Lord in His creation of the world. (Juvenile Instructor, 46 (4), 208-209 (April 1911), and that various possibilities for such creation might have included the idea that Adam and Eve: (1) "evolved in natural processes to present perfection", (2) were "transplanted [to earth] from another sphere" (see, e.g., Adam-God theory), or (3) were "born here . . . as other mortals have been." (Improvement Era 13, 570 (April 1910).

In 1925, as a result of publicity from the "Scopes Monkey Trial" concerning the right to teach evolution in Tennessee public schools, the First Presidency reiterated its 1909 stance, stating that "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, basing its belief on divine revelation, ancient and modern, declares man to be the direct and lineal offspring of Deity. . . . Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes."

The issue of evolution surfaced again in the early 1930s, when there was an intense debate between liberal theologian and general authority B. H. Roberts, an ardent proponent of evolution, and the more conservative theologian Joseph Fielding Smith. This prompted the First Presidency, then led by Heber J. Grant as President, to conclude:

Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church. . .
Upon one thing we should all be able to agree, namely, that Presidents Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund were right when they said: "Adam is the primal parent of our race" [First Presidency Minutes, Apr. 7, 1931].

Later, Joseph Fielding Smith published his book Man: His Origin and Destiny, which denounced evolution without qualification. Similar statements of denunciation were made by Bruce R. McConkie, who as late as 1980 denounced evolution as one of "the seven deadly heresies" (BYU Fireside, June 1, 1980), and stated: "There are those who say that revealed religion and organic evolution can be harmonized. This is both false and devilish." Evolution was also denounced by the very conservative Ezra Taft Benson, who as an Apostle called on members to use the Book of Mormon to combat evolution and several times denounced evolution as a "falsehood" on a par with socialism, rationalism, and humanism. (Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, April 5, 1975).

Today, largely influenced by Smith, McConkie, and Benson, evolution is rejected by a large number of Church members, including highly educated members and even some bio- and paleo-science professors at Church-owned schools such as Brigham Young University. However, the Church still does not have an official position on how the Earth was created, and many devout Latter-day Saints have accepted evolution as a fact of history. See, e.g., Trent D. Stephens, D. Jeffrey Meldrum, & Forrest B. Peterson, Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding (Signature Books, 2001).

The beginnings of the Church bureaucracy

New building programs

  • Constructing administration buildings
  • Zions Securities Corporation (managing taxable Church properties)
  • Corporation of the President (managing non-taxable Church properties)

The early correlation movement

  • Priesthood editorial oversight of formerly priesthood-auxiliary-specific YMMIA, YLMIA, Relief Society, Primary, and Sunday School magazines.
  • Adoption of the Boy Scout program (1911)
  • Priesthood Committee on Outlines established for publishing lesson materials for each priesthood quorum
  • Melchizedek Priesthood handbook (1928)

Priesthood-Auxiliary movement (1928-1937): re-emphasized the church hierarchy around Priesthood, and re-emphasized other church organizations as "priesthood auxiliaries" with reduced autonomy.

The Church Educational System

  • As free public schools became available, the church closed or relinquished church-run "stake academies" and junior colleges in 1920s (except Rick's College and Brigham Young Academy).
  • Building of seminaries on church property adjacent to public high schools (beginning 1912).
  • Establishment of a General Board of Education
  • Institutes of religion (beginning 1926 at University of Idaho)

Church welfare systems

  • Relief Society's Social Services department (1920s--provided therapy, counseling, and adoption services)
  • Church Security Program (1936)
  • Welfare Program (1938)
  • Welfare Services department (Social Services, employment and guidance programs, and health services)
  • Military Relations Committee

The Church and "Lamanites"

During the post-World War II period, the Church also began to focus on expansion into a number of Native American cultures, as well as Oceanic cultures, which many Mormons considered to be the same ethnicity. These peoples were called "Lamanites", because they were all thought to descend from the Lamanite group in the Book of Mormon. In 1947, the Church began the Indian Placement Program, where Native American students (upon request by their parents) were voluntarily placed in white Latter-day Saint foster homes during the school year, where they would attend public schools and become assimilated into Mormon culture.

In 1955, the Church began ordaining black Melanesians to the Priesthood.

Reacting and Adapting to the Postmodern World (c. 1960 and later)

By the 1960s and 1970s, as a consequence of its massive, international growth in the post-World War II era, the Church was no longer primarily a Utah-based church, but a world-wide organization. The church, mirroring the world around it, felt the disunifying strains of alien cultures and diverse points of view that had brought an end to the idealistic modern age. At the same time, the postmodern world was increasingly skeptical of traditional religion and authority, and driven by mass-media and public image. These influences awoke within the church a new self-consciousness. The Church could no longer rest quietly upon its fundamentals and history. It felt a need to sell its image to an increasingly jaded public, to jettison some of its Utah-based parochialism, to control and manage Mormon scholarship that might present an unfavorable image of the Church, and to alter its organization to cope with its size and cultural diversity, while preserving centralized control of Latter-day Saint doctrine, practice, and culture.

Thus, the Church underwent a number of important changes in organization, practices, and meeting schedule. In addition, the Church became more media-savvy, and more self-conscious and protective of its public image. The Church also became more involved in public discourse, using its new-found political and cultural influence and the media to affect its image, public morality, and Mormon scholarship, and to promote its missionary efforts. At the same time, the Church struggled with how to deal with increasingly pluralistic voices within the Church and within Mormonism. In general, this period has seen both an increase in cultural and racial diversity and extra-faith ecumenism, and a decrease in intra-faith pluralism.

Latter-day Saint ecumenism

Until the Church's phenomenal growth after World War II, it had been seen in the eyes of the general public as a backward, non- or vaguely-Christian polygamist cult in Utah -- an image that interfered with proselyting efforts. As the Church's size began to merit new visibility in the world, the Church seized upon the opportunity to re-define its public image, and to establish itself in the public mind as a mainstream Christian faith. At the same time, the Church became publicly involved in numerous ecumenical and welfare projects that continue to serve as the foundation of its ecumenism today.

Moderation and assimilation of Mormon rhetoric

As part of the Church's efforts to re-position its image as that of a mainstream religion, the Church began to moderate its earlier anti-Catholic rhetoric. In General Authority Bruce R. McConkie's 1958 edition of Mormon Doctrine, he had denounced the Catholic Church as "the church of the devil" and "the great and abominable church". In his 1966 edition of the same book, this language was removed.

See generally: Armand L. Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Strugle with Assimilation (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994); Gordon Sheperd & Gary Sheperd, "Mormonism in Secular Society: Changing Patterns in Official Ecclesiastical Rhetoric," Review of Religious Research 26 (Sept. 1984): 28-42.

Standardization of missionary discussions

The first routinized system for teaching Church principles to potential proselytes had been created in 1953 and named "A Systematic Program for Teaching the Gospel". In 1961, this system was enhanced, expanded, and renamed "A Uniform System for Teaching Investigators". This new system, in the form of a hypothetical dialogue with a fictional character named "Mr. Brown", included intricate details for what to say in almost every situation. These routinized missionary discussions would be further refined in 1973 and 1986, and then de-emphasized in 2003.

In 1973, the Church recast is missionary discussions, making them more family-friendly and focused on building on common Christian ideals. The new discussions, named "A Uniform System for Teaching Families", de-emphasized the Great Apostasy, which previously held a prominent position just after the story of the First Vision. When the discussions were revised in the early 1980s, the new discussions dealt with the Apostasy less conspicuously, and in later discussions, rather than in the first discussion. The discussions also became more family-friendly, including a flip chart with pictures, in part to encourage the participation of children.

Changes in the Endowment ceremony

In 1990, the Church revised the text of the Endowment ceremony. Whereas the ceremony had historically depicted a Christian minister as being in league with Lucifer, the revised ceremony deleted all reference to the Christian minister. The new ceremony also deleted certain Masonic references and blood oaths, which had been shocking to many traditional Christians.

Emphasis on the name and significance of Jesus Christ

In 1982, the Church renamed its edition of The Book of Mormon to The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, in order to emphasize that the book is about Jesus.

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1995 logo of the church, emphasizing the words "Jesus Christ"
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Pre-1995 church logo

In 1995, the Church announced a new logo design that emphasized the words "JESUS CHRIST" in large capital letters, and de-emphasized the words "The Church of" and "of Latter-day Saints". According to Bruce L. Olsen, director of public affairs for the Church, "The logo re-emphasizes the official name of the Church and the central position of the Savior in its theology. It stresses our allegiance to the Lord, Jesus Christ."

On January 1, 2000, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles released a proclamation entitled "The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints". This document commemorated the birth of Jesus and set forth the Church's official view regarding Christ.

In 2001, the Church sent out a press release encouraging reporters to use the full name of the church at the beginning of news articles, with following references to the "Church of Jesus Christ". The release discouraged the use of the term "Mormon Church".

Cooperation with Other Churches

  • The Church has opened its broadcasting facilities (Bonneville International) to other Christian groups, and has participated in the VISN Religious Interfaith Cable Television Network.
  • The Church has participated in numerous joint humanitarian efforts with other Churches.
  • Agreement not to baptize Holocaust victims by proxy

Emerging Multiculturalism

As the Church began to collide and meld with cultures outside of Utah and the United States, the Church began to jettison some of the parochialisms and prejudices that had become part of Latter-day Saint culture, but were not essential to Mormonism. In 1971, LDS Apostle and scholar Bruce R. McConkie drew parallels between the LDS Church and the New Testament church, who had difficulty embracing the Gentiles within Christianity, and encouraged Saints not to be so indoctrinated with social customs that they fail to engage other cultures in Mormonism. Other peoples, he stated, "have a different background than we have, which is of no moment to the Lord . . . . It is no different to have different social customs than it is to have different languages. . . . And the Lord knows all languages". In 1987, Boyd K. Packer, another Latter-day Saint Apostle, stated, "We can't move [into various countries] with a 1947 Utah Church! Could it be that we are not prepared to take the gospel because we are not prepared to take (and they are not prepared to receive) all of the things we have wrapped up with it as extra baggage?". See 21 Dialogue 97 (Fall 1988).

During and after the American Civil Rights Movement, the Church faced a critical point in its history, where its previous attitudes toward other cultures and people of color, which had once been shared by much of the white American mainstream, began to appear racist and neocolonial. The Church came under intense fire for its stances on blacks and native Americans issues.

The Church and Blacks

Main article: Blacks and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The cause of some of the Church's most damaging publicity had to do with the Church's policy of discrimination toward blacks, a policy that had begun during the administration of Brigham Young. Blacks were always officially welcome in the Church, and Joseph Smith, Jr. established an early precedent of ordained black males to the Priesthood. Smith was also anti-slavery, going so far as to run on an anti-slavery platform as candidate for the presidency of the United States. At times, however, Smith had shown sympathy toward a belief common in his day that blacks were the cursed descendants of Cain. By the year 1849, Brigham Young and other Apostles introduced a policy that though blacks could be baptized, they and others could not be ordained to the Priesthood or enter LDS temples. See Blacks and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Journal histories and public teachings of the time reflect that Young and others stated that God would some day reverse this policy of discrimination. It is also important to note that while blacks as a whole were specifically withheld from priesthood blessings (although there were some exceptions to this policy in both the 1800s and 1900s), other races and genealogical lineages were also prohibited from holding the priesthood. Only those who were assigned to the tribes of Joseph, Judah and Levi had a right to hold the priesthood during various parts of the period.

By the late 1960s, the Church had expanded into Brazil, the Caribbean, and the nations of Africa, and was suffering criticism for its policy of racial discrimination. In 1969 the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and First Presidency voted to end the discriminatory policy; however, the move was later vetoed by First Counselor and later President Harold B. Lee on the grounds that a revelation was required for such a policy change. On June 9, 1978, under the administration of Spencer W. Kimball, the Church leadership finally received this divine sanction to change the long-standing policy. See Doctrine and Covenants, OD-2.

Today, there are many black members of the Church, and many predominantly black congregations. In North America, black members have organized branches of an official Church auxiliary called the Genesis Groups.

The Church and Native Americans

The Church's policy toward Native Americans also came under fire during the 1970s. In particular, the Church was criticized for its Indian Placement Program, where Native American students were voluntarily placed in white Latter-day Saint foster homes during the school year. This program was criticized as neocolonial. In 1977, the U.S. government commissioned a study to investigate accusations that the Church was using its influence to push children into joining the program. However, the commission rejected these accusations and found that the program was beneficial in many cases, and provided well-balanced American education for thousands, allowing the children to return to their cultures and customs. One issue was that the time away from family caused the assimilation of Native American students into American culture, rather than allowing the children to learn within, and preserve, their own culture. By the late 1980s, the program had been in decline, and in 1996, it was discontinued. See Indian Placement Program.

In 1981, the Church published a new LDS edition of the Standard Works that changed a passage in The Book of Mormon that Lamanites (considered by many Latter-day Saints to be Native Americans) will "become white and delightsome" after accepting the gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead of continuing the original reference to skin color, the new edition replaced the word "white" with the word "pure", emphasizing inward spirituality. See Lamanite.

Centralization of Church Structure

  • Priesthood Correlation Program: During the 1960s, the Church aggressively pursued its earlier Correlation Program that had begun in 1908, which streamlined and centralized the structure of the Church, making Church organizations such as the Relief Society less independent, and assigned them a supporting role under priesthood direction. The program also increased Church control over viewpoints taught in local church meetings.
  • Emeritus status of general authorities who are too old or ill
  • Reorganizing the quorums of seventy
  • Dismantling ward and stake prayer circles (1978)

Making Church Participation More Convenient

Consolidated Meeting Schedule

In earlier times, Latter-day Saint meetings took place on Sunday morning and evening, with several meetings during the weekday. This arrangement was acceptable for Utah Saints, who generally lived within walking distance of a church building. Elsewhere other than Utah, however, this meeting schedule was seen as a logistical challenge. In 1980, the Church introduced the "Consolidated Meeting Schedule", in which the majority of church meetings were held on Sunday during a three-hour block.

While promoting convenience and making church practice compatible with non-Utahns, this new schedule has been criticized for eroding fellowshipping opportunities among North American Latter-day Saint youth. This erosion, in turn, has been blamed for decreasing LDS participation of young women to below that of young men, and for a downward trend in the percentage of LDS males who accept the call to serve a full time mission. See Quinn, Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power.

Experiment in Shortening Full-Time Missionary Terms

In 1982, the First Presidency announced that the length of service of male full-time missionaries would be reduced to 18 months. In 1984, a little more than 2 years later, it was announced that the length of service would be returned to its original length of 24 months ([1] (http://www.dialoguejournal.com/excerpts/36-3a.asp)).

The change was publicized as a way to increase the ability for missionaries to serve. At the time, missionaries paid for all their expenses in their country of service. Recession during the Carter presidency pushed inflation higher and the exchange rate lower. This sudden increase in costs together with already high costs of living in Europe and other industrialized nations resulted in a steady decline in the number of missionaries able to pay for two full years of service. The shortening of the required service time from 24 to 18 months cut off this decline in numbers, leveling out in the period following the reinstatement. For those in foreign missions, this was barely enough time to learn a more difficult language and difficulty with language was reported.

Nevertheless, the shortened period of time also had an impact on numbers of conversions: they declined by 7% annually during the same period. Some also saw the shortening as a weakening of faithfulness among those who were eventually called as missionaries, less length meaning less commitment required in terms of faith. However, it has also been seen as a recognition by the leadership of changes within the LDS cultural climate. Young people were finding themselves not as connected to the activities and meetings that had set them apart from their peers. Intensive meeting schedules during the week and all day Sunday had brought them into contact with the culture of church service and missions on an almost constant basis. With the introduction of the shortened meeting schedule (a three hour block on Sundays), the loss of contact brought a decrease in activity among the age groups most likely to go on missions.

While the re-extension of mission terms was not a panacea for the problems of declining conversion numbers, a coordinated effort at improving youth attendance to activities on Sunday and other days of the week has seen both a record number of youth who serve missions (about 51,000 currently) and conversions (about 240,000 per year according to current church published statistics (http://www.lds.org/newsroom/showrelease/0,15503,3881-1-21259,00.html)). Record economic growth starting in the mid-1980's mostly erased the problem of finances preventing service. As a secondary measure, starting in 1990, paying for a mission became easier on those called to work in industrialized nations. Missionaries began paying into a church-wide general missionary fund instead of paying on their own. This amount paid (about $400 currently) is used by the church to pay for the costs of all missionaries, wherever they go. This enabled those going to Bolivia, whose average cost of living is about $100 per month, to help pay for those going to Japan, whose cost tops out at around $900 per month. The funds also go towards printing and distribution of materials used by missionaries such as tracts and the Book of Mormon, which are given out for free.

Reacting to pluralism

The role of women

Main article: Women and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

  • Allowing women to speak in Sacrament Meetings
  • Opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment
  • E.T.Benson's views on whether women should work outside the home
  • "The Family: A Proclamation to the World"
  • Women and the Priesthood

See Women and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church, sexual orientation, and gender identity

  • In 1968, the General Handbook of Instructions added "homo-sexual acts" to the list of sins for which excommunication was appropriate.
  • Statements about homosexuality by Church leaders
  • Views on whether gays can be "cured". The Evergreen organization. Shock therapy experiments at BYU.
  • New views on the separation between gay "identity" and gay "conduct"
  • Gay mormon suicides
Position on gay and lesbian marriage

Beginning in the mid-1990s, the Church began to focus its attention on the issue of same-sex marriages. In 1993, the Supreme Court of the State of Hawaii held that discrimination against same-sex couples in the granting of marriage licences violated the Hawaiian constitution. In response, the Church's First Presidency issued a statement on February 13, 1994 declaring its opposition to same-sex marriage, and urging its members to support efforts to outlaw gay and lesbian marriages. With the assistance of the LDS Church and several other religious organization, the Hawaiian legislature enacted a bill in 1994 outlawing same-sex marriages. Unofficially, the Church continued to oppose efforts in Hawaii to grant gay and lesbian families the right to enter civil unions with most of the same legal rights as heterosexual families, including adoption, child custody, and joint property rights.

As other states, including Vermont and Massachusetts, began extending legal protections to same-sex couples, the Church continued to take an active role in preventing any legal recognition for families other than the heterosexual norm. In 2004, the Church officially endorsed an amendment to the United States Constitution banning marriage except between a man and a woman. The Church also officially announced its opposition to political measures that "confer legal status on any other sexual relationship" than a "man and a woman lawfully wedded as husband and wife." ("First Presidency Statement on Same-Gender Marriage", 19 October 2004). Although the statement was directed specifically to gay marriage, the statement could also be read to encompass political opposition by the Church to recognizing civil unions, common-law marriages, plural marriages, or other family arrangements.

Queer Mormon support groups

While the Church's official stance has positioned it somewhat aloof from the interests of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Mormons, some Church members have formed a number of unofficial support organizations. The most prominent organization, with roots beginning in the 1960s, is entitled Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons (http://www.affirmation.org), whose mission is to "serve the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender LDS and their supportive family and friends through social and educational activities". Other support organizations include Gamofites (http://www.gamofites.org/), an organization for gay Mormon fathers; Wildflowers (http://www.wearewildflowers.com), a group for wives and former wives of gay Mormons; and the Gay LDS Young Adults (http://www.glya.com), an organization of gay Mormons aged 18-30.

Challenges to Fundamental Church Doctrine

In 1967, a set of papyrus manuscripts were discovered in the Metropolitan Museum of Art that appear to be the manuscripts from which Joseph Smith, Jr. claimed to have translated the Book of Abraham in 1835. These manuscripts were presumed lost in the Chicago fire of 1871. Analyzed by Egyptologists, the manuscripts were identified by some as The Book of the Dead, an ancient Egyptian funery text. Moreover, the scholars' translations of certain portions of the scrolls disagreed with Smith's translation. This discovery rocked the community of Mormon scholars, and forced many Mormon apologists to moderate the earlier prevailing view that Smith's translations were literal one-to-one translations. As a result of this discovery, some Mormon apologists consider The Book of the Dead to be a starting-point that Smith used to reconstruct the original writings of Abraham through inspiration. See Book of Abraham and Jeff Lindsay's three-part series "Questions about the Book of Abraham" (http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_Abraham.shtml).

In the early 1980s, the Church was rocked again by the apparent discovery of an early Mormon manuscript called the "Salamander Letter". This letter, reportedly discovered by a scholar named Mark Hofmann, alleged that the Book of Mormon was given to Joseph Smith, Jr. by a being that changed itself into a salamander, not by an angel as the official Church history recounted. The document was purchased by private collector Steven Christensen, but was still significantly publicized and even printed in the Church's official magazine, The Ensign. Some Mormon apologists including Apostle Dallin H. Oaks suggested that the letter used the idea of a salamander as a metaphor for an angel. The document, however, was revealed as a forgery in 1985, and Hofmann was arrested for two murders related to his forgeries.

Not all of Hofmann's finds have been deemed fraudulent. A document called the 'Anthon transcript' that allegedly contains reformed Egyptian characters from the Book of Mormon plates is still in dispute, although the characters have been highly circulated both by the Church and other individuals (see Reformed Egyptian). Due to Hofmann's methods, the authenticity of many of documents he sold to the Church and the Smithsonian will likely never be sorted out. For a more thorough discussion see Salamander Letter and Mark Hofmann.

Handling Mormon Dissidents and Scholars

Excommunication of George P. Lee

In 1989, George P. Lee, a Navajo member of the First Quorum of the Seventy who had participated in the Indian Placement Program in his youth, was excommunicated not long after he had submitted to the Church a 23-page letter critical of the program and the affect it had on Native American culture. (However, this excommunication most likely had more to do with a charge of child molestation that surfaced at about the same time, to which he pleaded guilty and served time in prison for.)

The Strengthening Church Members Committee: keeping files on the public statements of potential dissidents

In the late 1980s, the administration of Ezra Taft Benson formed what it called the Strengthening Church Members Committee, to keep files on potential church dissidents and collect their published material for possible later use in church disciplinary proceedings. The existence of this committee was first publicized by an anti-Mormon ministry in 1991, when it was referred to in a memo dated July 19, 1990 leaked from the office of the church's Presiding Bishopric.

At the 1992 Sunstone Symposium, dissident Mormon scholar Lavina Fielding Anderson accused the Committee of being "an internal espionage system," which prompted BYU professor and moderate Mormon scholar Eugene England to "accuse that committee of undermining the Church," a charge for which he later publically apologized (Letter to the Editor, Sunstone, March 1993). The publicity concerning the statements of Anderson and England, however, prompted the church to officially acknowledge the existence of the Committee. ("Mormon Church keeps files on its dissenters," St. Petersburg Times, Aug. 15, 1992, at 6e.) The Church explained that the Committee "provides local church leadership with information designed to help them counsel with members who, however well-meaning, may hinder the progress of the church through public criticism." ("Secret Files," New York Times, Aug. 22, 1992).

The First Presidency also issued a statement on August 22, 1992, explaining its position that the Committee had precedent and was justified based on a reference to D&C (LDS) Sec. 123, written while Joseph Smith, Jr. was imprisoned in Liberty, Missouri, suggesting that a committee be formed to record and document acts of persecution against the church by the people of Missouri.

Other topics
  • BYU academic freedom
  • Statements against Sunstone
  • Excommunication of scholars, including the September Six

Dealing with Mormon Polygamist Sects

The Church and the Information Age


Using the Media for Political Influence

Church Infomercials

  • Homefront
  • Our Heavenly Father's Plan, Together Forever, What is Real, Prodigal Son, etc.
  • Legacy, etc.

The Church and Pornography

The Church and public relations

In 1998, Church President  appeared on . Courtesy Larry King Live.
Enlarge
In 1998, Church President Gordon B. Hinckley appeared on Larry King Live. Courtesy Larry King Live.
  • Hinkley's appearances on Larry King Live
  • Communication with foreign countries to allow entry of missionaries

Novel uses of communications technology

  • Genealogy
  • Broadcasting the Nauvoo temple dedication

Church-owned Domain Names

  • Primary site:

LDS.org -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (http://www.lds.org)

  • Subsidiary sites:

DayofCelebration.com -- 175th Anniversary Celebration (http://www.dayofcelebration.com/)

FamilySearch.org -- Genealogical Research (http://www.familysearch.org)

ProvidentLiving.org -- Provident Living (http://www.providentliving.org)

Mormon.org -- Basic Theological Information (http://www.mormon.org)

ldsces.org -- Church Educational System (http://www.ldsces.org)

BeSmart.com -- Education Advocacy (http://www.besmart.com)

MusicAndTheSpokenWord.com -- Music and the Spoken Word (http://www.musicandthespokenword.com)

MormonTabernacleChoir.org -- Mormon Tabernacle Choir (http://www.mormontabernaclechoir.org)

LDSCatalog.com -- Church Distribution (http://www.ldscatalog.com)

ItsAboutLove.org -- Adoption Support (http://www.itsaboutlove.org)

  • Tertiary sites, owned by organizations affiliated with the Church:

byu.edu -- Brigham Young University (http://www.byu.edu)

byui.edu -- BYU Idaho (formerly Ricks College) (http://www.byui.edu)

ldsbc.edu -- LDS Business College (http://www.ldsbc.edu)

byuh.edu -- BYU-Hawaii (http://www.byuh.edu)

FARMSResearch.com -- Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (http://www.farmsresearch.com)

DeseretNews.com -- Deseret Morning News (http://www.deseretnews.com)

Bonneville.com -- Bonneville Communications (http://www.bonneville.com)

ksl.com -- KSL TV and Radio (http://www.ksl.com)

BYUBroadcasting.org -- BYU Broadcasting (http://www.byubroadcasting.org)

BYUTV.org -- BYU Television (http://www.byutv.org)

BYURadio.org -- BYU Radio (http://www.byuradio.org)

kbyutv.org -- KBYU Television (http://www.kbyutv.org)

kbyufm.org -- KBYU FM Radio (http://www.kbyufm.org)

BYUBookstore.com -- BYU Bookstore (http://www.byubookstore.com)

DeseretBook.com -- Deseret Bookstore (http://www.deseretbook.com)

GospelLink.com -- Gospel Link (http://www.gospellink.com)

BYUCougars.com -- BYU Cougar Sports (http://www.byucougars.com)

References

External links

See also

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