Understanding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the LDS church), or often simply called the Mormon Church, is a Christian denomination that considers itself to be the true restoration of the original church founded by Jesus Christ. The denomination has its headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah and has formed churches, called wards or branches, around the world. The National Council of Churches lists the group as having a membership of over 15 million people, which ranks it as the fourth largest Christian denomination.

Followers of the LDS theology are technically known as Adherents, though often referred to as Latter-day Saints, and less formally called Mormons. Latter-day Saints hold to faith in Jesus Christ as the central tenet of their doctrine, though other teachings on the nature of God and the nature of man differ a great deal from orthodox Christianity. In addition, the LDS church accept four scriptural texts as authoritative; the Bible (both Old and New Testaments), the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

The Origins of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons)

The LDS Church finds its roots in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, but was officially organized by Joseph Smith in 1830. The church started in New York with the intent of establishing the New Jerusalem in North America. After brief excursions in Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and Nebraska, the church found its widest acceptance and success in Utah.

Following Smith’s death in 1844, leadership of the movement was assumed by Brigham Young. Young oversaw the process of the LDS Church becoming a legal denomination. For a while, Young oversaw the church and also served as territorial governor for the state. He came public with his beliefs and practice of plural marriage, a form of polygamy. Centered around polygamy and a theocratic state government, the United States government and the LDS church had intense conflict which ultimately led to several federal occupations. After Young’s death, leaders of the church disavowed the practice of polygamy which led to Utah statehood.

Beliefs & Sects

During the 20th century the church grew internationally and became a strong public defender of traditional marriage. The church played a large role in Utah’s opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, physician assisted suicide and same-sex marriage. Apart from issues that it considers to be of biblical morality, the church officially tries to stay neutral on political matters.

The LDS Church shares many common beliefs with mainstream Christianity, including salvation through Jesus, the resurrection, baptism and the eucharist. The Mormons differ from Christianity on their views of the three heavens providing degrees of glory, on the terminology surrounding exaltation, and on their understanding of the Trinity.

A unique feature of the LDS Church is the expectation that all young men are to serve a two-year, full-time stint as a church missionary. The denomination will choose where the believer will serve the mission. They are expected to share their faith and win converts to their church. The men are expected to raise funds for themselves, usually by asking friends and family to donate support. The men are to fulfill their requirement between the ages of 18 and 25. Unmarried women 19 years of age and older may also serve as missionaries. Their term of service is normally only 18 months.

Death & Mourning

The Latter Day Saints believe that death is the separation of the body and the spirit. Altering slightly from mainstream Christianity, the Mormons believe that all men, good or evil, are taken home to the God who gave them life. The spirits of the believers go to a place of peace and happiness called paradise. The sinful are ushered into a place of suffering, experiencing the wrath of God. All await the final resurrection when all will again be judged before the throne of God.

There are no rituals or strict customs for displaying grief and mourning during the time of the visitation and funeral. Not expected to be stoic, the Mormon who is grieving is expected to display normal signs of grief, yet not to the point of despair. Their belief in the faithfulness and graciousness of God brings them hope for the future. Other members of the church rally around each other to provide strength and support during the time of loss.

After Life

Latter Day Saints teach that the soul continues on after the physical death of the body. They believe that following death the soul goes to a waiting place, anticipating the final Day of Judgment. During this time, souls await the end in either a place of peace or suffering, depending upon the merits of the life lived on Earth.

Mormons believe in a sort of two-tier structure for heaven. Those who have accepted the teaching of the Latter Days Saints will be rewarded for their faithfulness by entering into heaven and the presence of God. Non-Mormons who were good people will be judged according to their deeds and may be rewarded with a heaven, but will not enjoy the presence of God.

Followers of the Latter Day Saints Church also believe in a hell, a place of punishment for those who refuse to believe. Those who did not repent during their physical lifetime spend the waiting period before judgment in a place of suffering. They will then have an opportunity to repent at the Day of Judgment. If they refuse to do so, their eternal outcome will be in hell along with Satan and his demons.

Traditions, Customs & Rituals

LDS funerals are very quiet, solemn occasions. While grief has a natural presence at the service, there is a thread of hope that is projected based on the promises that there will one day be a reunion with the deceased. Funerals open and close with traditional sacred music and prayer. Several of the hymns will be led so that those in attendance may join in the singing. Eulogies and messages from Scripture bring comfort and strength to the bereaved.

Funerals are typically held within a week after the death. The funeral service can be as lengthy as an hour and a half, and rarely less than an hour. The service may take place in the church, funeral home or completely at the grave site. It is usually officiated by one of the bishops of the local congregation.

Visitations are generally held on the day or two before the funeral, depending on the expectations of the crowd that will gather. The casket may be open or closed based on the preferences of the family.

Dress for the mourners is typically modest and conservative. A suit and tie for the men and a dress or suit for the women would be appropriate. No head covering is necessary. There is a strong belief among the Mormons that they are to grieve in a way that is different than that of the rest of the world. Therefore many members of the LDS Church will not wear black, but simply a subdued color.

It is very common for all of the guests of the funeral service to also attend the burial. A meal is often shared together following the burial ceremony.

Grief & Mourning

Christianity in general teaches that death is a natural transition from this life to a spiritual existence elsewhere. It is appropriate and normal to grieve the loss of a loved one. The Latter Day Saints are encouraged to strengthen and support each other during the time of loss.

There is no specified amount of time that a person should stay in mourning in the Mormon tradition. The length of time away from work or abstaining from a festive life is left to the needs and personality of the bereaved. There are also no traditions about remembering or mourning anniversaries or special days.

The grave site at the cemetery does hold a special place in the teachings of the Latter Day Saints Church. A priest will bless and dedicate the grave before the burial. The grave site then becomes a special place for family and friends to gather on occasion, remembering their loved one and looking forward to the day when they will be reunited in heaven.