Mormon Beliefs: How Belief Shapes Mormon Culture
Mormonism is the restoration of the ancient Church of Christ. When Joseph Smith, the first prophet of the restoration, first began to teach others, he encountered many who were spiritually prepared to receive his message. Some of those he encountered had experienced profound manifestations of the spirit, instructing them that the ancient church had to be restored, and that this restoration was soon to occur. Typical was the experience of Martin Harris:
In his religious life, Harris did not attend church but instead believed in the “restorationist” ideal, and looked for the return of Christianity as described in the Bible. He is quoted as saying that “in the year 1818 … I was inspired of the Lord and taught of the Spirit that I should not join any Church” (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, p. 170).
Elder Rigdon was another who was prepared for the restoration of the true church. Rigdon was a licensed minister for the Regular Baptists. However, he was constantly looking for the pure Church of Christ as described in the New Testament. In 1830, in Kirtland, Rigdon set up a Church that was looking for the restoration of Christ’s Church. His Church was at first associated with the Campbellite movement, which sought to bring back New Testament Christianity. Rigdon quickly gained a testimony of the truthfulness of Joseph Smith’s message and converted to the new church. More than a hundred members of his congregation also converted. Ultimately, nearly 3,000 Campbellites would join the Mormon Church.
These accounts demonstrate one of the most important aspects of Mormon culture—”living by the Spirit.” The Lord typically prepares investigators of the Church spiritually through promptings of the Holy Ghost. After baptism, worthy members qualify for the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Mormons believe in personal revelation; they learn to live by the promptings of the Spirit, and they partake of all the gifts of the Spirit. These spiritual gifts strengthened the early “Saints,” as worthy members of the Church are called, to weather bitter persecutions and to leave their homes and possessions repeatedly rather than deny the faith.
Self-reliance and industry have always been central to Mormon culture. The honey bee and the beehive have been symbols of the faith since the beginning. The great city of Nauvoo, Illinois, was founded by the Saints after they were driven from Missouri, in 1839. The Saints were destitute when they gathered to Nauvoo and had to drain a malarial swamp in order to build a city. Thousands flocked to the city of refuge, so the citizens not only were required to reestablish themselves, but to also make room for the multitude of converts. Within a few years Nauvoo rivaled Chicago. The Saints were driven out in 1845, willing to leave their sparkling city and make the exodus across the plains to worship in freedom.
The Saints have always been a happy people, in spite of the slander heaped against them. Before the exodus, the Lord commanded them to enjoy the journey, to sing and dance every evening on the trail.
Current Church Culture
The characteristics of the early church typify the modern church. Revelation continues to guide the leaders of the Church, enabling the Church to adjust to its burgeoning membership throughout the world. Personal revelation guides each member and family. New converts join the Church only after a personal confirmation by the Holy Spirit that the gospel is true. Self reliance and industry continue to be prominent characteristics of the church membership—Mormons store a year’s supply of food and clothing for emergencies, participate in an extremely successful church welfare program, uphold a model world-wide humanitarian aid program administered by the Church, donate to a “perpetual education fund” for Mormon youth from poor cultures, give one-tenth their income as tithes to the Church, and pay an extra donation monthly for the poor. The Church also runs Deseret Industries, a thrift store that provides work and training for the needy and provides goods to the local poor and humanitarian aid world-wide. The Church also sponsors help with adoptions, addictions, employment, and psychological counseling.
The Church also has a lay clergy. Members are called to positions in their local congregations or larger areas by the “General Authorities” of the Church. All callings are temporary, except at the highest levels of leadership—the president of the Church (the prophet) and the apostles serve until their death. This means that any church member will serve in numerous capacities through a lifetime of service. All of the auxiliaries, youth programs, women’s program, priesthood quorums, wards (parishes), stakes (groups of wards), and missions are manned this way.
The Lord’s house is a house of order, and the Mormon Church is probably the most organized of all organized religions. Semi-annual general conferences, held in April and October, are comprised of hours of meetings telecast worldwide, during which the Prophet, Apostles, and Seventies address the Church. Regional, stake, and ward conferences are also held. Congregations are organized by locale, so that members don’t flock to chapels with the most charismatic bishops. Detailed records are kept of every ordinance, and membership records follow members when they move. All lessons are coordinated, so that a person can attend church in one location on one Sunday, and in another location the following Sunday and still maintain continuity in his Sunday School lessons. Although callings change in wards and stakes, the organization is so tight, that Latter-day Saints can show up at a disaster area and be instantly organized and ready to work—they just fall into the typical leadership pattern they are used to. Mormons, through their callings, develop the ability to lead and follow, teach, and be instructed.
Culture and good, clean fun are also central to Mormon life. Recently, Mormons have won or have been finalists in many singing, music, and dance competitions in the U.S. and elsewhere. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is world-famous. Brigham Young University performing teams garner awards every year. The Church emphasizes education, and BYU has been recognized yearly for its quality education. BYU now has three large campuses.
Mormons are known for their good health, charitable nature, happy demeanor, work ethic, and honesty. They are extremely family-oriented. Missionary experience gives many Mormons the ability to be instantly cordial, and many Mormons speak a foreign language fluently while understanding the cultural background of the language, as well.