Picking up on Mormon affinity for Jews, Mormon U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) wears a Jewish mezuzah around his neck. These small, biblically inscribed parchment scrolls are mounted at the entrance of Jewish homes as reminders of faith. Hatch sees connections between Mormons and Jews whose persecution confirms their chosenness. "I wear a mezuzah just to remind me, just to make sure that there is never another holocaust anywhere. You see, the Mormon church is the only church in the history of this country that had an extermination order out against it, by Governor Lilburn Boggs of Missouri. We went through untold persecutions."
Along with the Old Testament connection, Mormons accept the New Testament as do all Christians and worship Jesus Christ as Savior of the world. These biblical strains are braided into the cheerful, optimistic Mormon style. The conservative, western style reflects the Church's origins in the United States. These strands in turn are being woven together now with the international, largely Latino cultures that are providing the bulk of Mormon converts. The biblical heritage, the early supernatural church founded by Joseph Smith, the frontier spirit of Brigham Young's mountain empire, modern American social conservatism, and a global multiculturalism all contribute to contemporary Mormon identity.
What do the Latter-day Saints believe? The Church has a group of "distinctive doctrines" and teachings, but this is not a creedal church. There is no definitive formulation of Mormon religious beliefs. The most fundamental tenet, the belief in revelation from God to Joseph Smith and his successors, requires that doctrine be open-ended as more Scripture may be forthcoming. Joseph Smith condemned strict formulations, which, he thought, restricted the reception of truth. He said "Latter-day Saints have no creed, but are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time."
Mormons believe that divine revelation for the direction of the entire Church comes from God to the president of the Church who is regarded by Latter-day Saints as a "prophet, seer, and revelator," a prophet like Abraham, Moses, or Peter. Mormons believe that every person may seek and receive revelation to guide his or her life. Parents may seek divine assistance to raise their children; students may pray over their studies; farmers may pray for their crops. Inspiration comes in answer to prayer. This principle of revelation saturates the body of the Church. This principle becomes a problem when disturbed individuals cloak themselves in Church doctrine to validate questionable actions. David Brian Mitchell, a former Church member who kidnapped Salt Lake teenager Elizabeth Smart in 2002, wrote a "revelation" that justified his illegal actions. Best-selling journalist Jon Krakauer tied together several violent incidents perpetrated by fundamentalist, excommunicated Mormons to illustrate the violent potential of supposed revelations. Richard E. Turley, Jr., a Church official, noted that, "Over the last few years there have been a number of individuals we considered deviant with practices they ascribe to religious beliefs." They "embrace only selective elements of church teachings," Turley said, to justify their actions. Robert Millet, a BYU religion professor, considered personal revelation the blessing and the burden of the Church. It can "enhance a person's spirituality." But "revelation" also leads people to "plain lunacy."
The best short account of Latter-day Saint belief is "The Articles of Faith," a list of thirteen principles Joseph Smith wrote in 1842 in response to the inquiry of a Chicago journalist. This list omits many key doctrines but remains the closest thing to a list of basic beliefs. The Articles of Faith was written when the Church was only twelve years old and still somewhat amorphous. Even this list would probably not exist if Smith had not been asked about the beliefs of the Church.
The Articles of Faith
1. We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
2. We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression.
3. We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
4. We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
5. We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
6. We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.
7. We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.
8. We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
9. We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
10. We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.
11. We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
12. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
13. We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul: We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.