The Mormon Faith

Overview

Join us for an examination of the origins, teachings and practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We will discuss the teachings and history of founder Joseph Smith, Jr. as well as those of Brigham Young. In addition, we will examine some of the controversial elements of the faith and clarify the current position of the church regarding these practices.

Key Lecture Points

  • Mitt Romney’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 brought his faith, Mormonism, to the attention of the American public. In the Iowa Republican caucus, Romney lost to Mike Huckabee. Many commentators suggested that it was the votes of Protestant Christian Evangelicals who oppose the idea of a Mormon candidate that led to Romney's loss. This theory is borne out by a 2007 Harris Poll of Republicans in which 29% stated that they would not vote for a Mormon for President.
  • An understanding of the story of Mormonism (and the skepticism of it) must be based upon the larger story of the history of religious practice in America. From the beginning of European expansion into the new world, America has provided the opportunity for people to practice their religion freely. At the same time, American history is also filled with stories of religious persecution. Thus, the story of the origins of Mormonism and its movement, under persecution, westward into present-day Utah fits within a larger American narrative.
  • The story of Mormonism also calls to mind the issue of religion and state. The First Amendment to the Constitution forbids the "establishment of religion". Yet, since the Mayflower Compact, Americans have sought some injection of religion into their governmental structures. As Mormonism established itself, again under frequent threat, its leaders created insular self-protecting governmental structures that amounted to theocracies. Today, Mormonism is more established, constituting 2% of the US population. But Mormon skeptics view the maintenance of secretive systems in the church as a demonstration of the continued theocratic tendencies of Mormonism. Mormons defend such systems as sacred rather than secret and revealed only to those who accept Mormonism as their faith.

Exploration Questions

  • How did the Mormon migration mirror that of the U.S. migration patterns of the time?
  • How is, or is not, Mormonism a distinctly “American” religion?

Reflective Question

  • The Framers of the U.S. constitution included a prohibition on religious tests for holding public office. Why do you think they did so?
  • What do think of when you think of Mormon people? Where do these notions come from (media, missionaries, friends who are Mormon, etc.)?
  • Why do many people feel strongly about the religious faith of the U.S. presidential candidates?
  • Why do you think U.S. culture seems so fascinated by polygamy?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Stark, Rodney. The Rise of Mormonism. Columbia University Press, 2005. 173 pages. Rodney Stark, an important sociologist of religion, gives his perspective on Mormonism.
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  • Arrington, Leonard J., & Bitton, Davis. The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints. University of Illinois Press, 1992. 414 pages. A history of the Mormon Church for the general audience. The authors (now deceased) were both historians and church-members.
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