Mormonism Q & A: the basics
By Rachel Zoll, AP Religion Writer
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded in 1830 in upstate New York and has since become one of the fastest-growing religious traditions in the world. Yet many Americans know little about the religion, and what they do know is often a caricature of the faith. Mitt Romney is the first Mormon nominated for president by a major party. For many voters, he’s the only Latter-day Saint they know.
Here is some basic information about the church.
Mormons consider themselves part of traditional Christianity, but most Christians disagree. Why?
A: Mormons and traditional Christians share many beliefs, including that Jesus was the son of God and that the Bible is the word of God. However, they differ on some fundamentals. Mormons believe their founder and first prophet Joseph Smith received revelations that restored true Christianity, which Smith said had been corrupted by other churches. Those revelations are contained in the additional scriptures that Mormons alone use, including “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” Mormons also differ with other Christians over the nature of the Trinity and the afterlife. A group of Mormon and evangelical scholars has been meeting for years to see where they can find common ground.
What kind of clergy serve in the Mormon church?
A: Latter-day Saints have priests and bishops but they aren’t professional clergy in the sense that most Americans understand the term. The priesthood is for lay volunteers. A bishop is a lay person who serves as a pastor for a specific congregation. The leader of a regional Mormon district, which is like a diocese, is called stake president. Romney served as a bishop and a stake president in the Boston area for about 14 years.
Why can’t non-Mormons enter LDS temples?
A: Only Mormons in good standing with the church can enter LDS temples, which have sacred rooms for marriages and other rituals. When new temples are built, church leaders usually open them to the general public for tours before dedicating the buildings for church use. But the temples aren’t the center for day-to-day community life and worship for Mormons. On Sundays, Latter-day Saints attend a service called a sacrament meeting at a local meetinghouse, which is open to all.
Why is the church based in Salt Lake City?
A: The history of the Latter-day Saints is intertwined with settlement of the American West. The earliest church members were hounded from region to region by outsiders angered by Mormon beliefs and the past support for polygamy, which the church renounced in 1890. After Smith was assassinated in 1844 by a Missouri mob, church leaders and members fled west. They eventually sought refuge in what was then the unsettled Salt Lake Valley. The church now has more than 14.4 million members worldwide, but its headquarters remain in Utah.
More information is available at the Mormon Newsroom.