Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Contemporary Mormonism : Latter-day Saints in modern America

Identity, Beliefs, And Organization
Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

These articles locate the Church as a Christian religion but not in the Calvinist wing. Mormons believe that Jesus Christ took on himself the sins of mortal men, but unlike other Christians, they consider themselves free from the original sin that degraded mankind. Adam's fall brought death to humankind, but men will be punished for their own sins, forgiven by Christ's atoning sacrifice. As a restored church, Mormonism structures itself according to biblical patterns, preaching a gospel culminating in a millennial Second Coming of Christ. The Church claims tolerance and offers it to others, embracing good wherever found, praising all virtuous activities in a broad final article.

In addition to the Articles of Faith, the Church has a huge inventory of doctrines coming from Joseph Smith and from the rest of its history. In each period, the Church emphasizes particular messages to suit the times. In the past thirty years, leaders have stressed continued revelation, temple culture, belief in Christ, and the traditional family, among others. These fit into the larger "Plan of Salvation," or "Plan of Happiness," Book of Mormon phrases referring to life before and beyond mortality and plotting a successful journey through life.

The Plan of Salvation underlies all other Latter-day Saint doctrines as the master narrative. The Plan is taught in the missionary lessons and the temples. The Plan says every person on earth is a child of God. Mortals lived with Him in a premortal existence. Through His divine plan, His spirit children come to earth to receive physical bodies, gain experience, and prove themselves worthy of the Father's greatest blessing: to live with Him forever. Through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, all God's children will live after death as embodied beings. Through His Atonement they can be forgiven their sins. The Plan teaches about the origin and purpose of life, answering the following questions. Where do I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?

Members find these principles moving. As Tom Robinson, a young convert said, "When the missionaries flipped the chart over and started talking about eternal marriage, that was it-preexistence, earth life, and afterlife-like a light bulb coming on." He and his wife were soon baptized. Brushes with death make this plan meaningful. Ingrid Adams, married to a Mormon, had already dismissed seven sets of missionaries when she miscarried an expected child. "It made me think. I had a husband and two children, whom I loved dearly, but I had lost someone that I had never known and it devastated me. I just wanted to make sure that I would have my husband and two kids for eternity. I fasted for two and a half days and told John that I was joining the church for his Christmas present." From the Plan of Salvation comes the doctrine of eternal marriage, performed in the temples. Family unity on earth and the potential for eternal relationships are core doctrines. Mormons believe that temple marriages continue forever, contingent on worthiness. As Joseph Smith said, the "same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory."

Latter-day Saints are best known for doctrines where belief merges with practice. The Word of Wisdom is their defining health code, generally interpreted as abstaining from tobacco, alcohol, tea, and coffee and the misuse of drugs. Stemming from a revelation of 1833 found in Doctrine and Covenants 89, the Word of Wisdom also emphasizes eating healthy foods. In practice, the commandment limits the LDS participation at social events where proscribed items are served. Mormons think twice before attending drinking parties, gatherings after work, or even coffee klatches; at dinners they upend their wine glasses and coffee cups. The Word of Wisdom accounts for the Mormons' clean-living reputation.

The Word of Wisdom is also the clearest boundary between active, observant Mormons and those who distance themselves from the Church. Adherence to the Word of Wisdom means identity as much as health. Michelle Nevada, a Jewish writer, reported a visit she had with Mormon neighbors. She was interested in their eating laws, not unlike the kosher rules she followed. The writer was drinking coffee as the Mormon woman was drinking herbal tea. The Mormon woman's son asked his mother, "Why can't I just try some coffee? It smells so good." The mother replied, "Because you need to remember who you are."

Still, there are health advantages. Mormons live long lives. Utah's percentage of smokers is the nation's lowest at 12 percent. Kentucky, the highest, is 31 percent, with the nation at 22.1 percent in 2003. Often cited is a fourteen-year study by James Enstrom, a non-LDS professor at UCLA, published in 1989. Enstrom followed mortality rates and health practices of nearly 10,000 California Church leaders and their wives and concluded that the Word of Wisdom increased life expectancy between eight and eleven years. Another study showed Utah with the nation's lowest cancer rates and heart disease. Utahns smoke less and drink less alcohol than other Americans, and they stay healthy although they are low on exercise and high on hearty dining.

Tithing is the biblical principle of giving to the Lord 10 percent of earnings; and tithing by faithful Latter-day Saints accounts for the Church's prosperity. Other churches have tithe payers and encourage their members toward this goal. The average Christian church donor, about 61 percent of the population in 2000, gave $649 to churches that year, down from $806 in 1998. This comes to less than $15 a week. By contrast, many Mormons, certainly not all, give a full 10 percent to the Church; they are encouraged to pay their tithing before any other obligations, even in bad times. Paying tithing is a prerequisite to entering Mormon temples. Brad Chadwick, one young missionary from Arizona serving in Milwaukee, said he considered the 10 percent no sacrifice. "You're helping the church's work go forward," he said. "And when you do that, you're doing God's work." Steve Young, former quarterback of the San Francisco Forty-Niners and a descendant of Brigham Young, said, "I don't really look at it as my money. You know, in my terms, it's the Lord's money, and I'd be, you know, in effect stealing from him if I didn't [pay tithing]."