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History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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Early History

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints began during the Second Great Awakening period in the Burned-Over District of upstate New York, where in 1820 a fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith, Jr. decided to put the question of which church he should join directly to God in prayer. In a grove of trees near his home, Smith claimed that two personages appeared to him in answer to his supplication. One of them called him by name, and pointing to the other said, "This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!" This event is known as the First Vision[?] by Latter-day Saint[?] faithful. Smith claimed that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared in order to tell him not to join any religion, but that he would be the means of establishing Christ's true church on the earth again as in ancient times.

During the next few years, Smith recorded that he continued to receive heavenly visitors, most notably repeated visits from an angel named Moroni who had reportedly been an ancient American prophet. Smith's account claims that these visits were instructive in nature, and that in 1827 Moroni entrusted him with the work of translating a book of scripture from ancient gold plates that had been buried near his home. Smith said that Moroni, as the last of the ancient American prophets to have produced the plates, warned him not to show them to anyone, and that if he were to lose them by any neglect, he would be cut off from God. Using several scribes and by what he claimed was the gift of God, the uneducated Joseph Smith eventually translated a portion of the plates. The translation is now known as The Book of Mormon and was first published in 1830.

While translating the book, Smith claimed he had received a revelation that three other men, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris would be allowed to see the gold plates. After returning the plates to Moroni, Smith and these three went into the woods and prayed. Soon, they claimed, a bright light came down and the angel Moroni appeared. He laid the gold plates before the men, along with several other ancient items, and commanded that they should "bear record of what you now see and hear." Their witness can be found at the front of the Book of Mormon (http://scriptures.lds.org/bm/thrwtnss). Soon after this event, Joseph Smith recorded that he was also permitted to show the plates to eight other witnesses near the Smith home in Manchester, New York. These eight witnesses handled the plates and also recorded their witness (http://scriptures.lds.org/bm/eghtwtns). Critics of the Church have since attempted to discredit the integrity of these individuals with some success, while apologists have sought to bolster their accounts. The issue is complicated by some of the Witnesses of the Book of Mormon[?]' early departure from the Church.

Founding of the Church and Early Hostility

The church was formally founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. in New York on April 6, 1830. Through revelation, Smith claimed, he was commanded to name the new church, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." The name denoted that it was Christ's church, established by His followers (the "saints") in the last days. Since this time, Smith's followers have referred to themselves as "Saints" or "Latter-day Saints[?]." Smith declared that he was directed by God to re-establish the true Church of Jesus Christ which had "fallen away" in what was described as a Apostasy that began in the early years of the Christian era.

Joseph Smith's religious claims met violent opposition in New York, where he and many early adherents were maltreated at the hands of mobs and neighbors who did not like the strange claims of heavenly visitors and "Golden Bibles." In response to destruction of Latter-day Saints' personal properties and threats of violence, Smith claimed to have received a revelation from God directing that followers in New York (who at the time numbered about 200) were to move to Kirtland, Ohio, where an established community under the leadership of Sidney Rigdon had been converted to the faith. By the following year, most had managed the move. Because of a shortage of land in Kirtland, a group of followers from Colesville, New York traveled with Smith in 1831 to Missouri and there settled. Smith returned to Kirtland.

The Church in Ohio

In Kirtland, church members built a thriving community and completed the first of the faith's Temples in the spring of 1836. Smith continued to receive revelations, many of which were first published in Kirtland as the "Book of Commandments," now known as the Doctrine and Covenants. He also set about producing a new translation of the Bible, now known as the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible[?], and continued to organize the leadership and missionary efforts of the church. One of the revelations Smith claimed to receive while in Kirtland was the commandment to begin to establish Zion[?], which was to be centered on the Western Frontier, in Jackson County, Missouri. 1837 and 1838 saw a general economic depression in the United States, which led to the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society, a banking institution established by church members in Ohio. This failure, along with sentiments similar to those produced by opposition to the religion in New York, caused organized persecution and violent mob action from the local community and from disenchanted members of the church. In January of 1838, Smith fled to Missouri. Soon, most followers were forced to do likewise.

The Church in Missouri

Early Mormon settlers in Missouri began to build in mostly unoccupied land, and for a few years lived in relative peace. In 1833, three years after the church had been established, more than 1000 members could be found there. But the influx of Mormon adherents unsettled local citizens, who feared that they would soon be outnumbered and thus lose much political and economic power. To the Missourians, the Latter-day Saints were not just a benign new sect. Rather, they viewed Mormonism as a direct threat to their way of life. Latter-day Saints were largely from the Northeast, and thus were against slavery, while Missouri at that time was a slave state. The Latter-day Saints tried to befriend and convert Native American Indians, who were generally seen as a menace by many frontiersmen. The belief in the Book of Mormon as scripture and their claim that they were led by a prophet[?] were beliefs that were unsettling enough, but perhaps most threatening was the belief that Independence, Missouri was Mormonism's "Zion," a gathering place designated for Latter-day Saints by their God. This caused fear of displacement by locals. On July 20th, 1833, a mob of 400 men met at the courthouse in Independence. They demanded that the Mormons leave Jackson County, that they cease the publication of their newspaper, and that no new Mormons be allowed in. When Church leaders would not submit to these demands, the mob attacked the newspaper office (which was also used to print the Book of Commandments), stole the printing press, and destroyed the building. They then seized Bishop Edward Partridge and another Latter-day Saint man, demanded that they denounce their beliefs and leave the town. When the men would not, they were stripped, tarred, and feathered. Three days later, the mob returned with more demands and more violence. The Church sought to avoid direct conflict by appealing to Governor Dunklin and seeking legal counsel, but this was to no avail. The destruction of property and beatings of Latter-day Saints eventually led to a skirmish on the Big Blue River, where three men were killed: two members of the mob and one member of the Church.

The violence continued as the Latter-day Saints were forced to flee across the Missouri River to Clay County. Through an act of the state legislature, the Mormons were moved 60 miles north to two new counties. There they established the community of Far West, and it was hoped that this would end the conflict between Missourians and Latter-day Saints. But in 1838 a mob of 100 men forcibly prevented Latter-day Saints from voting at the election poll. A brawl ensued, with several injuries. Governor Lilburn Boggs ordered the state militia in to restore order. One of the militia's captains, Samuel W. Bogart, took three Latter-day Saints into custody. The Mormons believed Bogart to be taking sides with the mob, and so organized a mission to rescue the kidnapped. The Battle of Crooked River ensued, with casualties on both sides including the fatality of a one of the Church's leaders and of a state militiaman. This led directly to Governor Boggs decree of 27 October 1838, that "The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary, for the public peace -- their outrages are beyond all description." This decree became known as the Extermination Order[?]. Three days later, a group of Mormons took refuge from a mob in Haun's Mill on Shoal Creek. The mob ordered those who wished to live to run to the blacksmith shop. Once the Latter-day Saints were inside the blacksmith shop, the mob opened fire, killing 17 Mormon men and boys. This event became known as the Haun's Mill Massacre[?].

Joseph Smith and other church leaders were soon captured by the state militia, and a court-martial was held. The men were sentanced to death by firing squad, but the orders were defied by General Alexander W. Doniphan[?] of the state militia, who warned the commanding general that if he continued to try to kill innocent men, "I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God."

The Church in Illinois

While Smith and the others were being held in jail, awaiting trial, more than 8,000 Mormons crossed into Illinois to avoid being "exterminated." After six months of incarceration and several changes of venue, Smith and the prisoners were allowed to escape into Illinois to meet up with the body of church members now living there in Quincy. After his arrival, Joseph Smith led his followers 35 miles north to an uninhabited bank of the Mississippi River. There, they set about draining the swamp and building a new town, which became Nauvoo, Illinois.

In Nauvoo, Smith continued to organize the church hierarchy, published the Book of Abraham[?], and claimed to receive significant new revelations. A new temple was constructed. Hundreds of missionaries were sent out. The Relief Society[?], a Latter-day Saint women's organization still in existence, was founded. The practice of polygamy, or plural marriage, was first introduced to a few church members here, but the doctrine of plural marriage was not widely known (or widely practiced) until 1852, five years after the Church reached Utah. Nauvoo continued to grow and for six years enjoyed relative peace and prosperity. But as Nauvoo's political and economic power increased in relation to competing towns, so did opposition to its success. Opponents of Joseph Smith published material in a local newspaper which was criticial of him and other Church leaders, and which Mormon leaders viewed as incendiary to the mobs that they had become familiar with in New York, Ohio, and Missouri. Under Nauvoo's city-state charter (granting Nauvoo's city council powers equal to the Illinois legislature within the jurisdiction of Nauvoo), power was granted to the city council to determine what was a legal nuisance[?] and to prevent and remove such. After turning to Wiliam Blackstone[?]'s legal canon that included a libellous press as a nuisance and some discussion, the council passed an ordinance declaring the press a nuisance. Under the council's new ordinance, Joseph Smith (the second Mayor of Nauvoo at that time) ordered the city marshall to destroy the paper and the press. Critics of the Church have questioned whether the city council's ordinance and the mayor's order were constitutional. One legal scholar Dallin H. Oaks has addressed the issue and concluded that although the actions may not have been wise they were in keeping with accepted legal practices of the time. (See Nauvoo Expositor.) Regardless of the legality, the actions of the city council and the mayor precipitated the imprisonment of Joseph Smith in Carthage, Illinios[?], where he was murdered by a mob (see Martydom of Joseph Smith[?]).

Succession of Leadership

After the death of Joseph Smith, there was some confusion as to who would lead the Church in his absence. Many of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Church's presiding body in absence of the prophet, were serving missions away from Nauvoo at the time of Smith's martyrdom. Some small groups splintered away from the larger Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Strangites[?] and the Hendricites[?] are two examples. Eventually, two main factions developed. The smaller, led by Joseph Smith's wife and son, remained in Nauvoo, eventually developing into the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But by far the largest group accepted that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, led by Brigham Young, had the authority and divine charge to continue leading the Church. When the Quorum of the Twelve reassembled in Nauvoo after Smith's death, a sustaining vote by the membership confirmed that Young now held the reigns, setting in place the policy that has remained since, that when the current Prophet dies, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve takes his place. Young confirmed to the church that they must move west "into the Wilderness" once again, but emphasized the importance of completing the Nauvoo Temple before leaving.

Young was succeeded by President John Taylor.

Migration West

Church leaders planned to leave Nauvoo in April of 1846, but amid threats from the state militia, they were forced to cross the Mississippi River in the cold of February. They eventually left the boundaries of the United States to what is now Utah where they founded Salt Lake City.

(the Mormon migration is a seminal event for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Perhaps more should be said here.)

The Church in Utah

Groups of converts from the United States, Canada, Europe, and elsewhere were encouraged to gather to Utah in the decades following. Both the original Mormon migration and subsequent convert migrations resulted in much sacrifice and quite a number of deaths. Brigham Young organized a great colonization of the American West, with Mormon settlements extending from Canada to Mexico. Notable cities that sprang from early Mormon settlements include San Diego, California and Las Vegas, Nevada.

For several decades, polygamy was encouraged as both in keeping with God's law and good for the protection and care of the many widows and orphans. Brigham Young, the Prophet of the church at that time, had quite a few wives, as did many other church leaders.

This early practice of polygamy caused conflict between church members and the wider American society. The United States Congress enacted legislation permitting the confiscation of church assets and the assets of church leaders. The Army was sent to Utah and, for a time, occupied Salt Lake City. Church leadership prohibited the practice in 1890, claiming that the practice ended in the same manner as it began, with a revelation from on high. Church members today who attempt to marry more than one wife are excommunicated. However, some small groups refused to accept the prohibition of polygamy, were cut off from the Church, formed their own churches and continue to practice it to this day.

A number of other Controversies regarding Mormonism can be considered a part of the Church's history.

(Insert History of the Church in the 20th century here. Possible inclusions: colonization of Utah and the West, growth, Utah War, Utah statehood, Blacks and Mormonism, growth - international and domestic, etc)

See also : Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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