History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) is typically divided into three broad time periods: (1) the early history during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, Jr. which is in common with all Latter Day Saint movement churches, (2) a "pioneer era" under the leadership of Brigham Young and his 19th Century successors, and (3) a modern era beginning around the turn of the 20th century as the practice of polygamy was discontinued.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints traces its origins to western New York, where Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Latter Day Saint movement was born and raised. Joseph Smith gained a small following in the late 1820s as he was dictating the Book of Mormon, which he said was a translation of words found on a set of golden plates that had been buried near his home in western New York by an indigenous American prophet. On April 6, 1830, in western New York, Smith organized the religion's first legal church entity, the Church of Christ. The church rapidly gained a following, who viewed Smith as their prophet. The main body of the church moved first to Kirtland, Ohio in the early 1830s, then to Missouri in 1838, where the 1838 Mormon War with other Missouri settlers ensued, culminating in adherents being expelled from the state under Missouri Executive Order 44 signed by the governor of Missouri. After Missouri, Smith built the city of Nauvoo, Illinois, near which Smith was assassinated. After Smith's death, a succession crisis ensued, and the majority voted to accept the Quorum of the Twelve, led by Brigham Young, as the church's leading body.

After continued difficulties and persecution in Illinois, Young left Nauvoo in 1846 and led his followers, the Mormon pioneers, to the Great Salt Lake Valley. The group branched out in an effort to pioneer a large state to be called Deseret, eventually establishing colonies from Canada to present-day Mexico. Young incorporated The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a legal entity, and governed his followers as a theocratic leader serving in both political and religious positions. He also publicized the previously secret practice of plural marriage, a form of polygamy. By 1857, tensions had again escalated between Mormons and other Americans, largely as a result of church teachings on polygamy and theocracy. The Utah Mormon War ensued from 1857 to 1858, which resulted in the relatively peaceful invasion of Utah by the United States Army, after which Young agreed to step down from power and be replaced by a non-Mormon territorial governor, Alfred Cumming. Nevertheless, the LDS Church still wielded significant political power in the Utah Territory as part of a shadow government. At Young's death in 1877, he was followed by other powerful members, who continued the practice of polygamy despite opposition by the United States Congress. After tensions with the U.S. government came to a head in 1890, the church officially abandoned the public practice of polygamy in the United States, and eventually stopped performing official polygamous marriages altogether after a Second Manifesto in 1904. Eventually, the church adopted a policy of excommunicating its members found practicing polygamy and today seeks to actively distance itself from “fundamentalist” groups still practicing polygamy.

During the 20th century, the church grew substantially and became an international organization. Distancing itself from polygamy, the church began engaging, first with mainstream American culture, and then with international cultures, particularly those of Latin America, by sending out thousands of missionaries across the globe. The church became a strong and public champion of monogamy and the nuclear family, and at times played a prominent role in political matters. Among the official changes to the organization during the modern area include the ordination of black men to the priesthood in 1978, reversing a policy originally instituted by Brigham Young. The church has also periodically changed its temple ceremony, gradually omitting certain controversial elements. There are also periodic changes in the structure and organization of the church, mainly to accommodate the organization's growth and increasing international presence.

For more details on Mormon history as an academic field, see Mormon studies.

Read more about History Of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints:  Early History (c. 1820s To C. 1846), The Modern Era (after C. 1890)

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