Blacks and the Latter Day Saint movement

Blacks and the Latter Day Saint movement

:"See Blacks and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for information specific to that branch in this movement"The Latter Day Saint movement has had a range of policies and doctrines relating to race in regard to African-descended people. References to black people, their social condition during the 19th century, and their spiritual place in Western Christianity as well as Mormon scriptures were complicated, with varying degrees of treatment that were different than the treatment shown to whites.

When the Mormons migrated to Missouri they encountered the pro-slavery sentiments of their neighbors. Initially, Joseph Smith, Jr. supported the laws regarding slaves and slaveholders as a matter of peace and order, but eventually rejected the institution and supported its abolition. Smith also welcomed free blacks into the church, and ordained black men to the Priesthood Fact|date=September 2008.

Following the death of Joseph Smith, Jr. and the succession crisis, leaders of the major Latter Day Saint movement denomination, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, continued to welcome all people regardless of color to be members; however, they began to exclude most people of black African descent (regardless of actual skin color) from Priesthood ordination and from participation in temple ceremonies. These practices continued until September 30, 1978, when church President Spencer W. Kimball, acting in his office as Living Prophet declared that in early June 1978 he had received a revelation from God to extend the priesthood and temple ordinances to all worthy male members. [ [ Official Declaration 2 ] ]

Other Latter Day Saint denominations dealt with the issue differently. The Community of Christ, The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite), and the Strangites have always allowed those of black African descent to hold the priesthood and participate fully in the religion. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and other Mormon fundamentalist groups continue the practice of exclusion based on race.

Racial doctrines during the movement's New York era (1820s and early 1830s)

The first reference in Latter Day Saint writings describing dark skin as a curse and mark from God refers to Lamanites. The Book of Mormon, published in the late 1820s, states the following about a group of people who rebelled against God:

And [God] had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people, the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them. And thus saith the Lord God; I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities." (sourcetext|source=Book of Mormon|book=2 Nephi
, emphasis added)

Those who rebelled were called Lamanites and those who did not were called Nephites. The curse was also placed on the Lamanites' descendants "because of the traditions of their fathers", (sourcetext|source=Book of Mormon|book=Alma|chapter=17|verse=15) which would ultimately "be taken from [them] and be answered upon the heads of [their] parents" (sourcetext|source=Book of Mormon|book=2 Nephi|chapter=4|verse=6)

The mark of blackness was placed upon the Lamanites so the Nephites "might not mix and believe in incorrect traditions which would prove their destruction" (sourcetext|source=Book of Mormon|book=Alma|chapter=3|verse=7|range=-9). The Book of Mormon records the Lord as forbidding miscegenation between Lamanites and Nephites (sourcetext|source=Book of Mormon|book=2 Nephi|chapter=5|verse=23) and saying they were to stay "separated from thee and thy seed [Nephites] , from this time henceforth and forever, except they repent of their wickedness and turn to me that I may have mercy upon them" (sourcetext|source=Book of Mormon|book=Alma|chapter=3|verse=14).

Throughout the Book of Mormon narrative, several groups of Lamanites did repent and lose the curse. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies or Ammonites "open [ed] a correspondence with them [Nephites] , and the curse of God did no more follow them" (sourcetext|source=Book of Mormon|book=Alma|chapter=23|verse=18). There is no reference to their skin color being changed. Later, the Book of Mormon records that an additional group of Lamanites converted and that "their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites… and they were numbered among the Nephites, and were called Nephites" (sourcetext|source=Book of Mormon|book=3 Nephi

The curse was also put on others who rebelled. One group of Nephites, called Amlicites "had come out in open rebellion against God; therefore it was expedient that the curse should fall upon them". (sourcetext|source=Book of Mormon|book=Alma|chapter=3|verse=18) The Amlicites then put a mark upon themselves. At this point, the author stops the narrative to say "I would that ye should see that they brought upon themselves the curse; and even so doth every man that is cursed bring upon himself his own condemnation."(sourcetext|source=Book of Mormon|book=Alma|chapter=3|verse=19) Eventually, the Lamanites "had become, the more part of them, a righteous people, insomuch that their righteousness did exceed that of the Nephites, because of their firmness and their steadiness in the faith." (lds|Helaman|hel|6|1)

The "Book of Mormon" did not countenance any form of curse-based discrimination. It stated that the Lord "denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile". (sourcetext|source=Book of Mormon|book=2 Nephi
). In fact, prejudice against people of dark skin was condemned more than once, here being one example:

O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God. Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins; neither shall ye revile against them because of their filthiness..." (sourcetext|source=Book of Mormon|book=Jacob

Black skin was also associated with a curse of hot climate in Smith's translation of the "Bible", circa 1830 , which describes a pre-deluge people called the "people of Canaan" (not to be confused with Canaan, the son of Ham, or the Biblical Canaanites), who were cursed because they fought against the "people of Shum."

"For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the barrenness thereof shall go forth forever; and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people." (sourcetext|source=Pearl of Great Price|book=Moses|chapter=7|verse=8).

The Book of Abraham, part of the Pearl of Great Price, which is accepted as scripture by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints indicates that the king of Egypt was a descendant of Ham and "a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth" through Ham's union with the woman Egyptus. The passage goes on to state, "and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land". (see,22#22)

The Movement and the politics of slavery in the Missouri era (early 1830s to 1838)

In the summer of 1833, W. W. Phelps published an article in the church's newspaper, seeming to invite free blacks into the state to become Mormons, and reflecting "in connection with the wonderful events of this age, much is doing towards abolishing slavery, and colonizing the blacks, in Africa." ( [ "Free People of Color"] ). Outrage followed Phelps' comments, (Roberts [1930] 1965, p. 378.) and he was forced to reverse his position, which he claimed was "misunderstood", but this reversal did not end the controversy, and the Mormons were violently expelled from Jackson County, Missouri five months later in December 1833 ( [ Bush & Mauss 1984, p. 55] ).

Coincidentally, on (December 16, 1833), Joseph Smith, Jr. dictated a passage in the Doctrine and Covenants stating that "it is not right that any man should be in bondage to another." (sourcetext|source=The Doctrine and Covenants|book=Covenant 101|verse=79).

In 1835 , the Church issued an official statement indicating that because the United States government allowed slavery, the Church would not "interfere with bond-servants, neither preach the gospel to, nor baptize them contrary to the will and wish of their masters, nor meddle with or influence them in the least to cause them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life, thereby jeopardizing the lives of men." (LDS D&C sourcetext|source=The Doctrine and Covenants|book=Covenant 134|verse=12).

On February 6, 1835, a prominent leader of the Mormons, W. W. Phelps, wrote a letter theorizing that the curse of Cain survived the deluge by passing through the wife of Ham, son of Noah, who according to Phelps was a descendant of Cain. (Messenger and Advocate 1:82) In addition, Phelps introduced the idea of a third curse upon Ham "himself" for "marrying a black wife". ("Id.") This black wife, according to Phelps, was not just a descendant of Cain, but one of the pre-flood "people of Canaan" (not directly related to the Biblical Canaanites after the flood).

In 1836, the rules established by the church for governing assemblies in the Kirtland Temple included attendees who were “bond or free, black or white.” (History of the Church, Vol.2, Ch.26, p.368)

Writing for the "Messenger and Advocate" (April 9, 1836) newspaper on the subject of slavery, Joseph Smith states:

"After having expressed myself so freely upon this subject, I do not doubt but those who have been forward in raising their voice against the South, will cry out against me as being uncharitable, unfeeling and unkind-wholly unacquainted with the gospel of Christ.

It is my privilege then, to name certain passages from the bible, and examine the teachings of the ancients upon this nature, as the fact is incontrovertible, that the first mention we have of slavery is found in the holy bible, pronounced by a man who was perfect in his generation and walked with God.

And so far from that prediction's being averse from the mind of God it remains as a lasting monument of the decree of Jehovah, to the shame and confusion of all who have cried out against the South, in consequence of their holding the sons of Ham in servitude!

"And he said cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem and Canaan shall be his servant." —sourcetext|source=Bible|version=King James|book=Genesis|chapter=9|verse=25|range=-27

"Trace the history of the world from this notable event down to this day, and you will find the fulfillment of this singular prophecy. What could have been the design of the Almighty in this wonderful occurrence is not for me to say; but I can say that the curse is not yet taken off the sons of Canaan, neither will be until it is affected by as great power as caused it to come; and the people who interfere the least with the decrees and purposes of God in this matter, will come under the least condemnation before him; and those who are determined to pursue a course which shows an opposition and a feverish restlessness against the designs of the Lord, will learn, when perhaps it is too late for their own good, that God can do his own work without the aid of those who are not dictate by his counsel." - (Joseph Smith Jr., "Messenger and Advocate" Vol. II, No. 7, April 1836 , p. 290; "History of the Church", Vol. 2, Ch. 30, pp. 436-40.)

In April 1836, in the "Messenger and Advocate" pg. 290 Vol. II. No. 7. Kirtland, Ohio, Smith said the following:

Thinking, perhaps, that the sound might go out, that "an abolitionist" had held forth several times to this community, and that the public feeling was not aroused to create mobs or disturbances, leaving the impression that all he said was concurred in, and received as gospel and the word of salvation. I am happy to say, that no violence or breach of the public peace was attempted, so far from this, that all except a very few, attended to their own avocations and left the gentleman to hold forth his own arguments to nearly naked walls.

In 1836, Warren Parrish (Smith's secretary) wrote regarding the sentiments of the people of Kirtland:

Not long since a gentleman of the Presbyterian faith came to this town (Kirtland) and proposed to lecture upon the abolition question. Knowing that there was a large branch of the church of Latter Day Saints in this place, who, as a people, are liberal in our sentiments; he no doubt anticipated great success in establishing his doctrine among us. But in this he was mistaken. The doctrine of Christ and the systems of men are at issue and consequently will not harmonize together. (Messenger and Advocate Volume 2, Number 7) []

The Church never denied membership based on race (although slaves had to have their master's permission to be baptized), and several black men were ordained to the priesthood during Joseph Smith's lifetime. The first known black Latter-day Saint was "Black Pete", who joined the Church in Kirtland, Ohio, and there is some evidence that he held the LDS priesthood. [] Other African Americans, including Elijah Abel in 1832, Joseph T. Ball in 1835 or 1836 (who also presided over the Boston Branch from 1844-1845), and Walker Lewis in 1843 (and probably his son, Enoch Lovejoy Lewis), were ordained to the priesthood during Smith's lifetime. [] William McCary was ordained in Nauvoo in 1846 by Apostle Orson Hyde. [] Two of the descendants of Elijah Abel were also ordained Elders, and two other black men, Samuel Chambers and Edward Leggroan, were ordained Deacons. []

Early black members in the Church were admitted to the temple in Kirtland, Ohio, where Elijah Abel received the ritual of washing and anointing (see "Journal of Zebedee Coltrin"). Abel also participated in at least two baptisms for the dead in Nauvoo, Illinois, as did Elder Joseph T. Ball.

Race issues in the Nauvoo era before Smith's death (1838 to 1844)

In 1838, Joseph Smith answered the following question while en route from Kirtland to Missouri, as follows: "Are the Mormons abolitionists? No ... we do not believe in setting the Negroes free."(Smith 1977, p.120)

By 1839 there were about a dozen black members in the Church. Nauvoo, Illinois was reported to have 22 black members, including free and slave, between 1839-1843 ("Late Persecution of the Church of Latter-day Saints", 1840).

"In the evening debated with John C. Bennett and others to show that the Indians have greater cause to complain of the treatment of the whites, than the negroes or sons of Cain" (History of the Church 4:501.)

Beginning in 1842 , Smith made known his increasingly strong anti-slavery position. In March 1842 , he began studying some abolitionist literature, and stated, "it makes my blood boil within me to reflect upon the injustice, cruelty, and oppression of the rulers of the people. When will these things cease to be, and the Constitution and the laws again bear rule?" (History of the Church, 4:544).

On February 7, 1844, Joseph Smith wrote his views as a candidate for president of the United States. The anti-slavery plank of his platform called for a gradual end to slavery by the year 1850 . His plan called for the government to buy the freedom of slaves using money from the sale of public lands.

“My cogitations, like Daniel's have for a long time troubled me, when I viewed the condition of men throughout the world, and more especially in this boasted realm, where the Declaration of Independence ‘holds these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;’ but at the same time some two or three millions of people are held as slaves for life, because the spirit in them is covered with a darker skin than ours.” (History of the Church, Vol.6, Ch.8, p.197 - p.198)

Joseph Smith's views of the true nature of the African American, according to the modern view, may be seen in the following exchange (as recorded in History of the Church, Volume 5, p. 216)::Elder Hyde inquired about the situation of the negro. I replied, they came into the world slaves mentally and physically. Change their situation with the whites, and they would be like them. They have souls, and are subjects of salvation. Go into Cincinnati or any city, and find an educated negro, who rides in his carriage, and you will see a man who has risen by the powers of his own mind to his exalted state of respectability. The slaves in Washington are more refined than many in high places, and the black boys will take the shine of many of those they brush and wait on.:Elder Hyde remarked, "Put them on the level, and they will rise above me." I replied, if I raised you to be my equal, and then attempted to oppress you, would you not be indignant and try to rise above me, as did Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, and many others, who said I was a fallen Prophet, and they were capable of leading the people, although I never attempted to oppress them, but had always been lifting them up? Had I anything to do with the negro, I would confine them by strict law to their own species, and put them on a national equalization."

Blacks and various Latter Day Saint movement denominations

After the death of Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1844, the movement underwent what is referred to as a succession crisis, when it split into several groups, leading eventually to dozens of separate denominations. Each of these denominations has treated the issue of race, and specifically the idea of a black race, differently. Below is a summary of how several denominations have dealt with these issues.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

After the death of Joseph Smith Jr., the Prophet Brigham Young Sr. taught that “Negroes” were black due to the mark of Cain, which also meant that they were Canaanites and were under the curse of Ham. For this reason, most blacks of African descent—along with a smaller number of non-blacks that the Church also deemed to be Canaanites—were ineligible to be ordained to the Priesthood. They were also barred from participating in the Endowment and celestial marriage, but were allowed to enter the church’s temples to perform baptism for the dead. [In her autobiography, Jane Elizabeth Manning James says she "had the privilege of going into the temple and being baptized for some of my dead." [Life History of Jane Elizabeth Manning James] as transcribed by Elizabeth J.D. Round] While this policy existed for over a century, it was always with the promise that "the time will come when they will have the privilege of all we have the privilege of and more." [ Brigham Young, Speech given in Joint Session of the Utah Legislature, February 5, 1952, in Fred Collier, The Teachings of President Brigham Young. Salt Lake City, Collier's Publishing, 1987, 43; Text of the speech: (Wikisource).] In 1978, church leaders said they had received a revelation that this long-promised time had come.

While some Latter-day Saints (including those in positions of authority) did make racist and/or seemingly racist comments over the years, the Church now has a strict no-tolerance policy toward racism and racial discrimination. For additional details, see Blacks and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Community of Christ

The Community of Christ accepts the doctrine of human worth or the "worth of all persons", and states that "God loves each of us equally and unconditionally. All persons have great worth and should be respected as creations of God with basic human rights. The willingness to love and accept others is essential to faithfulness to the gospel of Christ." [ [ Faith and Beliefs] , webpage, retrieved June 17, 2006]

A revelation given through Joseph Smith III on May 4, 1865, specifically addressed the ordination of black men. It was added to the Community of Christ edition of the Doctrine and Covenants as [ Section 116] .

Although the official policy was in full support of the ordination of black persons, Community of Christ was not always free from regional discrepancies, and the prejudices of the prevailing culture.

Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

In 2005, the "Intelligence Report" published the following statements made by Warren Jeffs, President of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints:
*"The black race is the people through which the devil has always been able to bring evil unto the earth."
*" [Cain was] cursed with a black skin and he is the father of the Negro people. He has great power, can appear and disappear. He is used by the devil, as a mortal man, to do great evils."
*"Today you can see a black man with a white woman, et cetera. A great evil has happened on this land because the devil knows that if all the people have Negro blood, there will be nobody worthy to have the priesthood."
*"If you marry a person who has connections with a Negro, you would become cursed." [ [] , web page, retrieved, July 15, 2006]

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite)

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite), James Strang presided over general conference resolutions to allow African-Americans to hold the high priesthood by 1849. This was consistent with Joseph Smith’s known ordination of a black man named Elijah Abel to the high priesthood office of Seventy in 1836. The Book of Mormon says that “black and white” are all invited and “all are alike to God.” There were two significant Black elders in the church under James Strang while he was alive, namely Samuel Chambers and Samuel Walker. [ [] , webpage, retrieved, July 15, 2006]

Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite)

The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite) has advocated full racial integration throughout all aspects of the church since its organization in 1862. In 1905, the church suspended an elder for opposing the full integration of all races.cite book |last=The Church of Jesus Christ |first= |authorlink=TCOJC |title=A History of The Church of Jesus Christ: Volume 2|year=2002 |publisher= The Church of Jesus Christ|location=Monongahela, PA |language= |isbn= |oclc= |doi= |id= |pages= |chapter= |chapterurl= |quote= ]

Historian Dale Morgan wrote in 1949: "An interesting feature of the Church's doctrine is that it discriminates in no way against ... members of other racial groups, who are fully admitted to all the privileges of the priesthood. It has taken a strong stand for human rights, and was, for example, uncompromisingly against the Ku Klux Klan during that organization's period of ascendancy after the First World War." [cite book |last=Morgan |first=Dale L. |authorlink= |title=The Western Humanities|year=Winter 1949-1950 |publisher= University of Utah|location=USA|pages=4|chapter=Volume IV, No.1]

At a time when racial segregation or discrimination was commonplace in most institutions in America, two of the most prominent leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite) were African American. Apostle John Penn, a member of the Quorum of Twelve from 1910 to 1955, conducted missionary work among many Italian Americans, and was often referred to as "The Italian's Doctor". Matthew Miller, an evangelist ordained in 1937, traveled throughout Canada and established missions to Native Americans.

ee also

*Curse and mark of Cain
*Criticism of Mormonism
*Walker Lewis


*cite journal
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The Negro and the Priesthood
journal = Liahona, the Elders' Journal
volume = 5
issue =
pages = 1164–1167
publisher =
year= 1908
url =
doi =
id =
accessdate =

first=Fawn M
author-link=Fawn Brodie
title=No Man Knows My History
place=New York

*cite book
last = Bush
first = Lester E. Jr
authorlink =
coauthors = Armand L. Mauss, eds.
title = Neither White Nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church
publisher = Signature Books
year= 1984
location = Salt Lake City, Utah
url =
doi =
id = ISBN 0-941214-22-2

*cite book
last = Buswell
first = James O. III
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Slavery, Segregation, and Scripture
publisher = Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co
year= 1964
location = Grand Rapids, Michigan
url =
doi =
id = ASIN: B0006AYWRG

*cite journal
last = Mauss
first = Armand L.
authorlink = Armand Mauss
coauthors =
title = Dispelling the Curse of Cain
journal = Sunstone
volume =
issue = 134
pages = 56–61
publisher =
month= December | year= 2004
url =
doi =
id =
accessdate = |format=PDF

*cite journal
last = Phelps
first = W.W.
authorlink = W. W. Phelps
coauthors =
title = Free People of Color
journal = Evening and Morning Star
volume = 2
issue = 14
pages = 109
publisher = W. W. Phelps & Co.
month= July | year= 1833
url =
doi =
id =
accessdate = 2006-07-15

*cite book
last = Roberts
first = B.H.
authorlink = B. H. Roberts
coauthors =
title = Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints
publisher = Brigham Young Univ Press
date = [1930] 1965
location = Provo, Utah
url =
doi =
id = ISBN 0-8425-0482-6

*cite journal
last = Smith
first = Joseph Jr.
authorlink = Joseph Smith, Jr.
coauthors =
title = Letter to Brother Cowdery
journal = Messenger and Advocate
volume = II
issue = 7
pages = 290
publisher = F. G. Williams & Co.
month= April | year= 1836
url =
doi =
id =
accessdate = 2006-07-15

*cite book
last = Smith
first = Joseph F.
authorlink = Joseph F. Smith
coauthors =
title = Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith
publisher = Deseret Book
date = reprint 1977
location = Salt Lake City
url =
doi =
id =

*cite book
last = Stewart
first = David Grant
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The Jaredites Were Black
publisher = National Translator Certification Service
year= 1978
location =
url =
doi =
id = B00071R4GU

author-link=Brigham Young
contribution=The Persecutions of the Saints—Their Loyalty to the Constitution—The Mormon Battalion—The Laws of God Relative to the African Race
date=March 8, 1863
title=Journal of Discourses Delivered by President Brigham Young, His Two Counsellors, and the Twelve Apostles, and Others
publisher=Daniel H. Wells


External links

* [] Haitian LDS converts share perspective on race & religion
* [ Neither White Nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church] (The full text)
* [ Black Mormon: A Web Site Dedicated to Black Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]
* [ The Genesis Group] - An organization established to meet the needs of Black members of LDS Church
* [ African Americans and Mormonism] - A critical look at Blacks and the Priesthood in the Mormon Church
* [ Chronological Bibliography on the Negro Doctrine]
* [ Authoritative Statements on the Status of Blacks]
* [ Black Jaredite Theory]
* [ More about the Olmec-Jaredite-Black theory]
* [ Olmec-Jaredite-Black theory]
* [ Essay on Latter-day Saint views on OD-2]
* [ News article on increase of Church membership among African Americans in Detroit and worldwide]
* [ Current Strangite position statement.]
* [ Utah Lighthouse Ministry, Section on Racism]
* [ African American Mormons and the Evolution of Church Policy] senior paper submitted by Erin Elizabeth Howarth in partial completion of bachelor of arts, department of history, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, August 1995
* [ Brigham Young's Speech on Slavery, Blacks, and the Priesthood]
* [ Curse of Cain? Racism in the Mormon Church]
* [ In His Own Words (Article about FLDS Racism)]
* [ Quotes from LDS sources regarding Blacks and Mormonism]
* [ A Work in Progress: The Latter-day Saint Struggle with Blacks and the Priesthood]

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