Mormon Literature and Resources, Part 1: Basic Information

Love him, hate him, or just don’t care, presumptive GOP-nominee Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign is increasing the visibility of-and curiosity about-Mormonism. In this series, I’ll be taking a look at books and other resources about the Mormon (Latter Day Saints) movement. I’ll be giving two recommendations on items. The first is whether or not it’s something I would recommend for a public library (would I place it in my library’s collection?). The second is the item’s suitability for more in-depth collections (would I buy it for myself?). First, let’s go over some basic information that all reference librarians should know about the Mormon movement.

Mormonism is a large and varied movement. It may surprise you, but not all Mormons are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. They’re definitely the largest and most well known denomination, but there are lots of others. Here’s a listing of the larger or more noteworthy groups:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

As mentioned, this is the largest and most well-known of the Mormon denominations. Brigham Young became leader after the death of Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1844. Also known as the LDS church, this is the group of which Mitt Romney is a member. It’s a fast-growing denomination with a strong missionary focus. It claims to be the original church founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr., but then so do lots of others. Its main website can be found at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Other important websites include Mormon.org and LDS News. The church itself places its membership at over 14.4 million worldwide, with more than 6 million in the United States.

Polygamy-Practicing Groups Descended from the LDS Church

There have been a lot of groups which have rejected the 1890 Woodruff Manifesto banning the practicy of polygamy. The most widely known group is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This is the largest polygamous LDS group with between 8 and 10 thousand members. They’ve been in the news a lot recently with the arrest, trial and conviction of Warren Jeffs on charges of child sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault. They have a single-page website offering literature for sale. Other polygamy-practicing LDS schismatics still known to exist include:

  • The Latter Day Church of Christ
  • The Apostolic United Brethren
  • The Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times
  • The Church of the New Covenant in Christ
  • The Righteous Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • The School of the Prophets
  • Centennial Park
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Kingdom of God
  • The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days
  • The Church of the Firstborn and the General Assembly of Heaven
Most of these groups are small and secretive (not unexpected given the legal standing of their relationships). They split and reform so often that no list can be considered authoritative.

The Community of Christ

This is the second largest group of Mormons, originally known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This group gathered under the leadership of Joseph Smith III and remained in the Midwest, where they are still most concentrated with large memberships in Missouri, Michigan, Iowa and Illinois. Early leaders of this church rejected Brigham Young’s claim to leadership as well as polygamy, baptism for the dead, and other distinctively “Mormon” beliefs. Their primary website can be found at Community of Christ. Headquartered and with a peace temple in Independence, Missouri. Membership is about 250,000 worldwide with about 125,000 in the United States. With new additions to the Doctrine and Covenants relating to peace and the worth of all people, this group is considered to be the most progressive of the major Mormon denominations.

 Offshoots

In the 1980’s a lot of groups split from what was then the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Most were due to alleged “doctrinal innovations” (i.e., opening the priesthood to women in 1984) or a perceived lack of emphasis on the Book of Mormon. Important groups include:

Other Important Groups

Groups that don’t fit into either of the two major divisions above resulted from rival claimants to leadership at the time of Smith’s death. The most important of these include:

  • The Church of Christ (Temple Lot). Organized by Granville Hedrick and opposed to both the leadership claims of Brigham Young and “lineal descent” claims bade by the supporters of Joseph Smith III. They also reject many doctrines promulgated by Joseph Smith, Jr. in his later years as well as most doctrines taught by the faction led by Brigham Young.
  • The Church of Jesus Christ, following the leadership of Sidney Rigdon and William Bickerton. This is probably the most “Protestant” denomination to come out of the Mormon movement. Although it accepts the Book of Mormon as scripture, it does not consider itself to be in any way a “Mormon” church. The church has taught full racial integration within the church since its formation in 1862.
  • The Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite) is a historically important, although numerically tiny, part of the Mormon movement. They are the only denomination to continually practice the early Mormon United Order. This was a voluntary practice of economics whereby all things were held in common. Currently one congregation in Independence, Missouri.
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite) is one of the more interesting groups in the Mormon movement. They’re the only denomination which keeps a 7th day Sabbath. Organized by James Jesse Strang in Wisconsin following Smith’s death, they later moved to Beaver Island in Lake Michigan where Strang proclaimed himself king of the church (not of any geographical area as many erroneously claim). Priesthood in the church has been open to women and African Americans at certain levels since 1856. In addition to the Book of Mormon, they consider as scripture the Doctrine and Covenants published before Smith’s death and the Book of the Law of the Lord, claimed to have been translated from ancient plates by Strang.This is also the only non-Utah denomination which teaches eternal marriage, baptism for the dead, and polygamy. Websites include the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Mormon Beliefs.

Well, that’s enough basic information to go with this time. Watch for the next in the series, where I’ll discuss basic Mormon scriptures. If there’s anything you feel I’ve missed or gotten wrong, please mention it in the comments and I’ll get back to it.

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