Mormon: Celebration & controversy in LDS 181 years

LDS CHURCH FOUNDER JOSEPH SMITHWEDNESDAY, APRIL 6: If you’re not Mormon, then the last headline you read about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints probably was about the Broadway show by the creators of South Park—or about GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. In either case, the news coverage is more about controversy than celebration as Mormon families mark their church’s birthday this week.

Today is the 181st anniversary of the church’s founding by Joseph Smith Jr. in the state of New York. Although that moment was humble and the circle of Smith’s first followers was small, the church now lists 15 million followers worldwide. The church teaches that Smith was a young man seeking guidance when he was startled by a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ—guiding him to establish a new church. (Full details are at the LDS church site.) Four years later, Smith reported another divine visit directing him to gold plates buried in a nearby hill; Smith located the gold plates, translated their contents and penned the Book of Mormon. Shortly following his book’s publication, Smith began the LDS church. (Wikipedia has more.)

Today’s Mormons believe Jesus leads the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by revealing his will through the church’s top leaders, especially the current head of the church: Thomas S. Monson, who speaks to members in a semi-annual general conference. (USA Today reports on this.) Last weekend (April 2-3), thousands gathered in Salt Lake City to receive spiritual guidance from Monson, and those who couldn’t visit Utah watched the conference on television or streamed from the LDS website. (Texts and more from the conference are at the LDS website.)


This week, Mormons are getting more mainstream coverage for controversy than for their 181st birthday. The Washington Post is one of many news publications reporting on “The Book of Mormon,” which appears to be a hit. It’s a Broadway musical by South Park co-writers Matt Stone and Trey Parker and, while some news coverage of the show claims that it shows affection toward Mormon missionaries—generally Mormon responses to the show have been highly critical. Nevertheless, the official LDS view is: There’s no point in even responding. Church officials call this problem their “Publicity Dilemma.” Officials face the same problem when Mormon politicians get into heated disputes on the campaign trail, which is likely to be the case once again as Romney seeks the White House in 2012.

If you’ve got a Mormon friend, neighbor or co-worker—wish them a happy anniversary this week. They probably will appreciate a kind word from a friend.

(Originally published at, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.)


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