During the early 1800s many new religious sects were growing in the United States. Religious denominations tried to spread their unique set of beliefs. Joseph Smith found a new church based on revelation that was translated into The Book of Mormon. The work tells a story of a prophet named Lehi who sailed to North America from Palestine in 600 BC. Lehi’s sons became bitter rivals and each formed a powerful army. Their followers, the Lamanites and Nephites, named after the brothers (Laman and Nephi), prepared for battle in the area that would become New York. A Nephite named Mormon recorded, on golden tablets, stories of the battle and of earlier events. The Lamanites slaughtered many Nephites, but Mormon’s son, Moroni, survived and buried the tablets at Cumorah. Nearly 1500 years later, Joseph Smith claimed that the angel of Morone had appeared to him (Streissguth, 1995).
Mormonism began when Joseph Smith attended a Christian revival in 1820 where he was encouraged to pray to God for guidance as to which church was true. In answer to his prayers he was visited by God the Father and God the Son, two separate beings, who told him to join no church because all the churches at that time were false, and that he was to bring forth the true church. This event is called the first vision (Beversluis, 1993).
In 1823 Joesph Smith had another heavenly visitation, in which an angel told him of a sacred history written by ancient Hebrews in America. The history was engraved in Egyptian on gold tablets and buried in a hill. He was told the information was the history of the ancient peoples of America, and that Joseph would be the instrument for bringing this knowledge to the world. The angel gave the tablets to Joseph Smith in 1827. He then translated the Egyptian into English with the help of the spirit of God and the use of a sacred instrument accompanying the plates called the “Urim and Thummim.” The translation was published in 1830 as The Book of Mormon. In this book are passages that proclaim there only one God and that God can not change (Bloom, 1992).
There are many facts that present a valid argument against Joseph Smith and his religion. The ‘First Vision’ story was unknown until 1838, eighteen years after its occurrence and almost ten years after Smith had begun his missionary efforts. The oldest version is in Smith’s own handwriting, dating from about 1832 (at least eleven years afterwards), and says that just one form, Jesus Christ, appeared to him. It also mentions nothing about a revival. The religious history of the locale where Smith lived in 1820 shows that there was no trace of a religious revival there at that time (there were revivals in 1817 and 1824, but none in 1820). Also, the oldest version of the first vision story contradicts the later account as to whether Smith had already decided that no church was true. In 1828, eight years after he says he had been told by God himself to join no church, Smith applied for membership in a local Methodist church (Streissgarth, 1995).
Although Joseph Smith said that God had pronounced the completed translation of the plated as published in 1830 “correct,” many changes have been made in later editions. Besides thousands of corrections of poor grammar and awkward working in the 1830 edition, other changes have been made to reflect subsequent changes in some of the fundamental doctrine of the church. For example, an early change in wording modified the 1830 edition’s acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity, allowing Smith to introduce his later doctrine of multiple gods. A more recent change occurred in 1981 when “white” was replaced with “pure,” apparently to reflect the change in the church’s stance on the black race. Also, Joseph Smith claimed to be a prophet because he foretold future events–by the power of God. The dates have long past, leaving the deeds undone.
Smith’s doctrines weren’t revealed to his church all at once or in their present state. From his first vision in 1820 until his death in 1844, Joseph Smith modified his doctrines, often altering them so much that they became entirely new ideas as years passed (Bloom, 1992).
The Latter-Day Saints honor the Book of Mormon as a divinely-inspired historical record and of Christ’s appearance shortly after the Crucifixion in Jerusalem.. There is a total lack of evidence to support the claims. For example, after the battle between the Nephites and Lamanites, there was no one left to clean up the mess. Hundreds of thousands of men and beasts perished in that battle, and the ground was covered with weapons and amour. No scientist, Mormon or not, has been able to substantiate that such a great battle took place. The Bible tells of similar battles that have been documented using archaeological methods and equipment inferior to those used today, battles which took place much earlier.
The Book of Mormon lacks historical or archaeological support, and there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that refutes it. The Book of Mormon has numerous textual errors, factual errors, and plagiarisms from other works. Also, it contains none of the key Mormon doctrines. This is important because the Latter-Day Saints state that it contains the fullness of the everlasting gospel (Streissgarth, 1995).
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, you will find yourself warmly accepted by a community of healthy, active, supportive people, many of whom are happy in Mormonism and could not imagine their life without it. However, there are many other points to consider. You will be continually reminded that to enter the highest degree of heaven, you will have to go through the endowment ceremony in the temple and have you marriage to your Mormon spouse sealed (if your spouse is not Mormon, you are not permitted to enter the highest degree of Heaven).
You will be expected to donate at least ten percent of your gross income to the church. You will never know how the money is spent because the church keeps its finances secret. You must give up the use of alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. You must fulfill any work assignment given to you based on God’s calling you to the task. You are to be obedient to church authorities. You can not read any material which is not faith-promoting. If you are unmarried, you will be encouraged to marry a good Mormon as soon as possible. Your non-Mormon friends and family may not attend the ceremony. If you are homosexual, you must abandon this aspect of your nature.
Males over 12 years old who are deemed worthy will be ordained to one of the levels of priesthood. If faithful behavior continues, you will advance through the priesthood ranks. If you are female, you will receive the benefits indirectly, through your Mormon father or husband. The role of the Mormon woman is to be a wife and mother and to obey and honor her priest husband. If you prove yourself to be faithful, hardworking, and obedient, you will eventually receive your endowment. This lengthy ceremony is kept secret; the ritual is called sacred. You will be required to swear a number of oaths (the penalty for violation is no longer stated but until 1990 was death by various bloody methods). You will be given secret signs and passwords required to enter heaven. After receiving the endowment, you will be required to wear a special undergarment.
All authoritarian organizations put fear into its members teaching that terrible things will happen if you ever leave. Most likely, your Mormon friends and family will abandon and shun you. There is great amount of fear surrounding the decision to depart from the Mormon faith (Melton, 1986).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints remains powerful. The church has nearly 9 million members (up from 5.6 million in 1984). Though the majority live in the U. S. and Canada, the Mormon Church’s biggest success of the past decade is Latin America, where it has 2.7 million followers (Beversluis, 1993).
The faith is an odd mixture of American and unconventional Christian ideas. Many Mormons refer to their faith as Mormon Christianity but most Christians would be astounded with the actual theology. Are Mormons Protestants? No, but Protestant presuppositions form part of the basis of Mormonism. Still, it isn’t correct to call Mormons Protestants because doing implies that they hold to the essentials of Christianity (Streissgarth, 1995).
They always come in pairs, usually on bicycle, and are dressed conservatively. They introduce themselves to you with the title of Elder. This means that they hold the higher of the two Mormon priesthood. Every practicing Mormon male achieves this priesthood at about age 18 provided that he conforms to the standards of the church.
The young missionaries will, at some point during the discussion, ask you to accept a copy of the Book of Mormon. They will also ask you to read it and pray about it, asking God to send the Holy Spirit revealing the truth. When you’re given the Book of Mormon and asked to pray about it, it’s important to realize why prayer is not a necessary step in the process of determining whether this work is of God. The devout Mormon believes that the text is inspired because Joseph Smith said it is. He or she believes Smith had the authority to claim divine inspiration because the book itself says Smith was a prophet and had such authority. The missionaries will want you to have a feeling about the Book of Mormon after reading it; a warm, burning sensation that is from the Holy Spirit. This feeling, to the Mormon, is the real proof that the Scripture is inspired by God. Everything else follows from this conclusion. It’s foolish to pray about things you know are not God’s will. It would be wrong to pray about the Book of Mormon when it is so easy to show that it is not the word of God (Bloom, 1992).
The Mormon missionaries that come to your door are often charming and enthusiastic. They have an attractive, interesting story to tell. Be careful not to fall into the trap of believing something simply because you want it to be true. Mormons may tell you that those who criticize the church are lying, misquoting, and distorting the facts. If you examine the source of the critics, the material is usually from official Mormon sources.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Beversluis, Joel. A Sourcebook for the Community of Religions. Chicago: The Council for a Parliment of the World’s Religions, 1993
Bloom, Harold. The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.
Melton, J. Gordon. Encyclopedia Handbook of Cults in America. New York: Garland Publishing, 1986.
Streissguth, Thomas. Charismatic Cult Leaders. Minneapolis: The Oliver Press, 1995.
***Also received much of my information from a former religious studies major (WVU). She has studied the Mormon faith in depth and spent a considerable amount of time with the Mormon missionaries.