Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, founded by Joseph Smith in upstate New York in 1830, believes that it is the restoration of the original church Jesus established and that other Christian traditions have gone astray. Mormons, as church members are called, regard themselves as Christian, but no other major Christian tradition does. The church has almost 6 million members in the U.S., making it the fourth-largest religious body in the country, and 12 million worldwide. Some of its practices are well-known, such as the missionary work required of young adults, but its beliefs are less well-understood. Some, such as the practice of baptizing non-Mormons after their death and the now-renounced practice of polygamy, are the source of news reports. Mormons believe that God has a physical body. They believe that humans are “sealed” to their family in a temple ceremony and will live eternally as gods in the highest celestial kingdom if they are faithful to church teaching. They do not consume tobacco, alcohol, coffee or tea.


The church uses four books of Scripture: the Bible (King James Version), the Book of Mormon (subtitled “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”), Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith’s translation and revision of the Bible. The church teaches that Mormon, an ancient American prophet, inscribed what’s known as the Book of Mormon on golden plates that his son Moroni buried on a hill in what’s now upstate New York. Moroni later was said to have returned as an angel and led Smith to the plates, which Smith translated and published in 1830, after the golden plates were taken away from him. The Book of Mormon describes God’s interaction with the people of ancient America and recounts the visit of the resurrected Jesus to the New World.



  • Whether or not Mormons are Christian is a contentious matter. Journalists should always be clear that the Mormons regard themselves as Christian but that Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians say Mormon beliefs do not agree with Christianity and its creeds. When this distinction is not important to a news report, journalists use phrases such as “Catholic, Protestant and Mormon churches are involved …” to avoid the issue. Journalists should avoid phrases such as “Christian churches, including Catholics, Protestants and Mormons,” which make a theological judgment about the church’s beliefs.

  • Journalists should take care to describe Mormon beliefs and practices in accurate and nonjudgmental ways. When teachings are controversial, journalists can state as fact or quote scholars explaining how they differ from traditional Christian teaching.

  • The LDS church has changed its position on the term Mormon. Most recently, the church asked not to be referred to as the Mormon church, but it does not object to adherents being referred to as Mormons. For journalists, the Mormon church is acceptable in references to the LDS church, though the church’s full name should be used on first reference.

  • Mormons welcome visitors in churches, but visitors are not allowed to enter Mormon temples. (Churches, or meeting houses, are used for Sunday worship, while temples, which serve numerous churches, are used only on weekdays for special rituals.) Even family members who are not Mormon cannot enter a temple for weddings and funerals. For that matter, only Mormons who are deemed sufficiently “worthy”— by paying their tithe and being active in their ward — are allowed in.

  • The LDS church has an unusual structure. The top authority is the First Presidency, made up of a president and two counselors. When the president dies, the First Presidency is dissolved and the Council of the Twelve Apostles selects a new president. Under the First Presidency is the three-member Presiding Bishopric, which governs in temporal affairs. There is also the First Quorum of Seventy, which oversees missionary work. The church is divided into territorial groups called stakes, and each stake is headed by a president, two counselors and a stake high council. Individual congregations are called wards. The pastor of a ward holds the title of bishop but is not salaried or a professional religious leader. The terms minister or the Rev. are not used.


  • The LDS church’s official online newsroom contains information written specifically for journalists, including its own style guide and a “Who Are the Mormons?” introductory page.

  • Light Planet’s Mormonism site, created by Mormons and supportive of the church, posts information on Mormon life and beliefs and links to dozens of other sites.

  • Brigham Young University is a Mormon university, and its scholars can speak about beliefs and practices.

  • There are numerous good books on the Mormon church. Mormon America (HarperSanFrancisco), by RNA member Richard Ostling and his wife, Joan, is a helpful examination of the church’s history, beliefs, culture and influence.