Culture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
A culture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), reflecting the cultural impact of basic beliefs and traditions of the church, distinguishes church members, practices, and activities. The culture is geographically concentrated in the Mormon Corridor in the United States, but is, to a lesser extent, present in many places of the world where Latter-day Saints live. Latter-day Saint culture is distinct from church doctrine.
Practices common to Latter-day Saints include following the Word of Wisdom, paying tithing, living the law of chastity, participation in lay leadership of the church, refraining from work on Sundays when possible, family home evenings, and home and visiting teaching. Tattoos and body piercings (except for one pair of earrings for women) are strongly discouraged. (Leviticus 19:28, KJV; 1 Corinthians 3: 16-17, KJV)
Church members are encouraged to marry and have children, and as a result, Latter-day Saint (LDS) families tend to be larger than average. All sexual activity, both heterosexual and homosexual, outside of marriage is considered a serious sin. Same-sex marriages are not performed or supported by the LDS Church. Latter-day Saint fathers who hold the priesthood typically name and bless their children shortly after birth to formally give the child a name and generate a church record for them.
The church emphasizes the moral standards that Mormons believe were taught by Jesus Christ, including personal honesty, integrity, obedience to law, chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage. The church puts notable emphasis on the family, and the distinctive concept of a united family which lives and progresses forever is at the core of Latter-day Saint doctrine.
Additionally, the church has clearly defined views on abortion: "In today's society, abortion has become a common practice, defended by deceptive arguments. Latter-day prophets have denounced abortion, referring to the Lord's declaration, 'Thou shalt not . . . kill, nor do anything like unto it' (Doctrine & Covenants Section 59, Verse 6). Their counsel on the matter is clear: Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints must not submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for an abortion. Church members who encourage an abortion in any way may be subject to Church discipline .... Church leaders have said that some exceptional circumstances may justify an abortion, such as when pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, when the life or health of the mother is judged by competent medical authority to be in serious jeopardy, or when the fetus is known by competent medical authority to have severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth. But even these circumstances do not automatically justify an abortion. Those who face such circumstances should consider abortion only after consulting with their local Church leaders and receiving a confirmation through earnest prayer." However, the LDS Church respects the individual's right to free agency, and the decision is ultimately left to rest between the individual and God through sincere prayer and fasting.
The church also opposes pornography and gambling, including government- or charity-sponsored lotteries. Latter-day Saints are counseled not to partake of any form of media that is obscene or pornographic in any way, including media that depicts graphic representations of sex or violence.
The majority of Mormons live outside the United States. Therefore, even though the global differences are important, there are some common traits around Mormons worldwide.
Latter-day Saints believe that one of the most important aspects of life on Earth is the opportunity for individuals to learn and grow. They further believe that whatever learning they obtain in this life is retained in the next life. Accordingly, the church strongly emphasizes education and as part of the Church Educational System, subsidizes Brigham Young University (BYU) and its Jerusalem Center, BYU–Idaho, BYU–Hawaii, and LDS Business College.
All participating members ages twelve years and older attend Sunday School classes, which emphasize personal scripture studies and other forms of spiritual education and self-improvement.
Seminary is an established religious education program for high school students, which is usually scheduled before or after school hours. The LDS seminary program should not be confused with "seminaries" established as graduate level ministerial programs by other denominations. In some areas with large LDS populations, provisions are made by the high school to allow students to attend Seminary (off-campus) during the school day. The provision is not considered a school-recognized class. No credit is awarded by the school, nor is any grade or achievement listed on the school's official transcript. Attendance at seminary is voluntary, although it does help when applying to church-run universities. CES administers the seminary program and also an Institute of Religion program for college-age church members.
In addition, the church sponsors a low-interest educational loan program known as the Perpetual Education Fund. This fund is designed to benefit young men and women from developing areas of the world who need further education to become productive citizens in their respective countries. Many of them have served a mission, returned to their home, and lack needed funds to improve their standard of living. As they finish their education and enter the work force they pay back the funds, which are then loaned to other individuals.
In Buena Vista, Virginia, a group of LDS businessmen bought out a failing college and renamed it Southern Virginia University (SVU). It is not owned by the church, nor does it receive any funding from the church. SVU depends heavily upon donations from church members and friends. The school enforces an honor code that is similar to that of the higher education units of CES.
In the United States the LDS Church specifically distances itself from getting involved in politics, although it encourages members to be politically active. Each summer in election years the church sends a letter to each bishop to be read over the pulpit stating that the church does not endorse any political parties or candidates, does not allow its buildings to be used for political events, and that no titles or positions that a person may have in the church may be used to imply church endorsement of any party or candidate.
However, the church has endorsed or opposed specific political positions which it regards as moral issues:
- Opposition to MX (Peacekeeper) missile bases in Utah and Nevada.
- Opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment during the 1970s.
- Support of the California initiative to define marriage in California as between one man and one woman.
- Support of the 2004 Utah constitutional amendment to define marriage in Utah as between one man and one woman.
- Support of the Defense of Marriage Act to define marriage in the United States as between one man and one woman.
- Support of Proposition 8 to define marriage in California as between one man and one woman.
A 2012 Pew Center survey on Religion and Public Life indicates that 74% of U.S. Latter-day Saints church members lean towards the Republican Party. Some liberal members say they feel that they have to defend their worthiness due to political differences. In recent decades[when?], the Republican Party has consistently won a majority of the LDS vote in most national and state-level elections. As a result, Utah, a state with an overwhelmingly LDS population, is also one of the most heavily Republican states in the country. However, Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader from 2007 to 2014, became an LDS Church convert as a college student. James E. Faust (1920-2007), an apostle and member of the First Presidency, also identified himself as a Democrat prior to his full-time church service as a general authority (1972-2007).
Mormons' political affiliations tend to vary geographically: while in Utah and Idaho the majority of members incline to vote Republican, in traditionally more Democrat city regions in New England and California there is also a tendency to have relatively more Democrat members. Outside the United States of America, Mormons tend to follow national and geographical political trends.[original research?]
Genealogical or family history research is an important aspect of Latter-day Saint tradition, stemming from a doctrinal mandate for church members to research their family tree and perform vicarious ordinances for their ancestors. Church members believe the ordinances "seal" or link families together, with the goal being an unbroken chain back to Adam. Church members are able to do genealogical work in various family history centers located throughout the world, usually in LDS chapels. The advent of personal computers prompted the church to create a specialized file format known as GEDCOM for storing and exchanging these records. Since then, GEDCOM has become a de facto standard that almost all genealogy programs support.
The church maintains a website called FamilySearch to access genealogical records, which typically contain birth, death, marriage and family group information. Church records also contain information on personal ordinances of members as well as vicarious temple ordinances such as baptism, endowment, and sealing to spouse, parent, and child. Genealogical and church related information is maintained in permanent storage in the Granite Mountain vault in the Wasatch Range of the Utah mountains. The church is currently working to digitize all of these records and make them more readily available.
The LDS Church has one of the most active missionary programs of any world church. During the church's general conference in October 2014, Thomas S. Monson noted that there were in excess of 88,000 full-time LDS missionaries serving without pay around the world. Young men can begin serving for two years at age 18, with young women able to begin 18-month service at age 19, and they frequently learn another language.
Missionary work is a fundamental principle of the church and has become one of its most readily identifiable characteristics. Church headquarters assigns missionaries to their area of work, which can be in any part of the world where governments allow them. It also directs the missionary whether to focus on proselytizing, humanitarian work, or family history work.
Formal public and personal prayers are addressed to "Heavenly Father" and offered in the name of Jesus Christ, followed by amen. When a prayer is given in public, it is customary for all attending to say "amen" at the prayer's conclusion. English-speaking members are encouraged to use "thee," "thou," "thy" and "thine" when addressing God, as a form of both familiarity and respect. Members who speak other languages use similar familiar, respectful language in prayer. Most prayers are extemporaneous and may be said while kneeling, standing, or sitting or in any other position. Bowing one's head and folding one's arms during prayer are both customary and encouraged.
Certain prayers associated with ordinances are defined and must be delivered verbatim, while others must follow a certain pattern. For example, the prayer to bless the sacrament is a set prayer which is delivered the same way each week. The priesthood holder kneels to say the prayer; if he accidentally deviates from the form, he is instructed to repeat the prayer until it is correct. Likewise, the prayer for baptism must be given verbatim prior to immersion; the priesthood holder stands in the water beside the person to be baptized, raises his right arm to the square, addresses the person being baptized by their full name, and pronounces the prayer. If the prayer or the person's name is not said correctly, or the person is not totally immersed, the ordinance is repeated. Other ordinations and blessings have a pattern, for example, in a confirmation prayer, the priesthood holder is to address the individual being confirmed by his or her full name, state the priesthood authority by which the ordinance is performed, confirm that person as a member of the church, and bestow the Holy Ghost with the words "receive the Holy Ghost." This is usually followed by an extemporaneous personal blessing as directed by the Spirit.
The LDS Church strongly encourages every member to be prepared for all types of disasters, including economic hard times. Members are encouraged to plant gardens, store a year's supply of food, and to maintain a "72-hour Kit" (or "3-Day Pack") containing necessary supplies to immediately sustain oneself in the event of a natural disaster. The church is well-equipped with necessities on-hand and available for quick distribution, but members are expected to see to their own immediate needs, as well as assisting their neighbors and communities. The church's response to emergencies or disasters is directed through the bishop's storehouse, and are not limited to church members.
The church also supports programs to help members become amateur radio operators, to provide communications between church facilities during disasters. HF amateur radio equipment enables logistics needs to be met worldwide, while VHF operations link local leaders. In areas with high expectation of needing such services (such as quake-prone Southern California), license classes and exams are periodically held in local chapels, and open to all, regardless of age or religious preference.
The LDS Church has a long and rich tradition of public speaking. Many early church members — and especially leaders — were gifted orators and many were skilled in debate. Public speaking was common for both leaders and other lay members. This speaking tradition continues today. For example, during worship services on the first Sunday of each month, members of the congregation are invited to share their testimonies of the gospel, faith-building experiences, and other uplifting messages with other members of the congregation.
On each of the other Sundays during the month, members of the congregation are selected in advance to give a "talk" (the LDS equivalent of a "sermon" or "homily") on a particular gospel principle or topic. Often the congregation will hear from one or two youth speakers and one or two adult speakers during these meetings. Children under age 12 are given the opportunity to give short talks in their Primary meetings, while teenagers are encouraged to contribute to church lessons.
Church leaders and missionaries are also encouraged to speak boldly and freely about the gospel, and are often given opportunities for extemporaneous public speaking on various Gospel subjects.
Since the early days of the church, talks given by leaders (especially those given in the church's semi-annual general conference meetings) have been recorded and widely distributed in written format. A digitized collection of these talks dating back to 1971 is available on the lds.org website, and talks dating back to the 1800s are available in printed format through various university and community libraries. In recent years, the LDS Church and BYU have also made audio and video versions of selected talks freely available on their websites.
One of the most commonly used visual symbols of the church is the trumpeting angel Moroni, proclaiming the restoration of the gospel to the Earth (often identified as the angel mentioned in Revelation 14:6-7). A statue depicting Moroni often tops the tallest spire of LDS temples. Other common symbols associated with the church are the letters CTR, meaning "Choose the Right", often depicted in a shield logo; and images of the Salt Lake Temple.
The modern LDS Church does not use the cross or crucifix as a symbol of faith. Mormons view such symbols as emphasizing the death of Jesus rather than his life and resurrection. The early LDS Church was more accepting of the symbol of the cross, but after the turn of the 20th century, an aversion to it developed in Mormon culture.
By current policy, no pictures or icons are depicted in the chapel within modern LDS meetinghouses, in order to avoid an image becoming the focus of worship rather than the reality of God. However, images such as paintings of Christ and photographs of LDS leaders and temples are common in other parts of church buildings.
Former church president Howard W. Hunter encouraged church members to "look to the temple ... as the great symbol of your membership." When questioned on the subject of symbols, former church president Gordon B. Hinckley said that Latter-day Saints themselves are the best symbols of their religion.
Members of LDS Church often address each other as "Brother" or "Sister" and then usually append the surname (for example: Brother Smith or Sister Jones). Additionally, those that hold specific leadership positions may be addressed by their title and then their last name (for example: President Brown). The most frequently-used titles are as follows:
- Bishop - The local bishop of a ward is addressed by the title of bishop. He is assisted by two counselors who are not addressed by title. Together, the three men constitute the bishopric. The title "bishop" is sometimes used when referring to a member formerly served as a bishop. The church's Presiding Bishop and his counselors are also given the title Bishop.
- Elder - While most adult male church members hold the office of elder in the Melchizedek priesthood, only full-time male missionaries, members of the Quorums of the Seventy (both general and area authorities) and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are properly addressed with this title.
- President - All members of a stake presidency, district presidency, temple presidency, and mission presidency are properly referred to with the title of president. Among the general authorities, only members of the church's First Presidency and the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (or Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when applicable) use this title. In individual congregations, an elders quorum president may be addressed as president. A teachers or deacons quorum president may be addressed with this title also, although they usually are not. Other presidents within the ward, such as the Sunday School president, Relief Society president, etc., are usually not addressed by title. In a branch, the branch president is referred to as president, but his counselors are not. Together, the three men constitute the branch presidency.
composed by Naomi Ward Randall in 1957. Sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in 2005.
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A number of songs and hymns are unique to the church. Among the most famous of these are "Come, Come, Ye Saints", "I Am a Child of God"', "The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning", "Praise to the Man", "O My Father", "High on the Mountain Top", and "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet".
According to LDS Church tradition, only the church president or First Presidency have the right to establish doctrine and policies for the entire church. In general, the perceptions of faithful members are expected to be in line with the current views of the church's general authorities.
However, topics which are related to doctrine, or are based on cultural ideas and norms, may often be informally taught or debated among Latter-day Saints. These include (but are not limited to):
- Outer darkness
- What it actually means to be a god or an exalted being.
- Pre-existence issues including divisions by valiance, pre-mortal sin, and the war in heaven.
- The nature of pre-mortal intelligence, and how it (and/or/if spirit and spirit matter) was created.
- The Adam–God theory
- Blood Atonement
- Purposes of the past LDS practice of plural marriage, and whether it will ever be reinstated or exist in the celestial kingdom.
- Location and nature of Kolob.
- At what point a spirit enters the body of a fetus or baby.
- Miscellaneous Mormon folklore such as encounters with the Three Nephites.
Although members may be correct in their conjecture, the church as an organization is very careful about what is declared official doctrine.
Cultural restrictions and taboos
After Joseph Smith, several early presidents of the LDS Church wore beards, including Brigham Young and Lorenzo Snow. However, since David O. McKay became church president in 1951, LDS Church leaders have been clean-shaven. Since that time the LDS Church has discouraged men from wearing beards, particularly those that serve in ecclesiastical leadership positions. The church's encouragement of men shaving has no theological basis, but stems from social changes associating facial hair with the hippie and drug culture aspects of the counterculture of the 1960s, and has not been a permanent rule.
Formal prohibitions against facial hair are enforced for young men entering missionary service. Students and staff of the church-sponsored schools that make up the Church Educational System, such as Brigham Young University, are required to adhere to the Church Educational System Honor Code, which requires that men be clean-shaven. A beard exception is granted for "serious skin conditions", and for approved theatrical performances, but no exception is given for any other reason.
In 2014, BYU students started a campaign to loosen the beard restrictions, but it had the opposite effect: some who had previously been granted beard exceptions were found to no longer qualify, and for part of a week LDS Business College required students with a registered exception to wear a "beard badge", which was likened to a "badge of shame". Some students joined in with shaming fellow beard-wearing students.
- Abortion, LDS.org
- Gordon B. Hinckley, Gambling, Ensign (May 2005): 58.
- Uchtdorf, Dieter F. (May 26, 2011). "Los Angeles World Affairs Council - President Dieter F. Uchtdorf - 26 May 2011". Los Angeles World Affairs Council transcript. Retrieved 1 November 2013. "And since 1997, the majority of Church members live outside the United States."
- "Utah Family Donates Prime Real Estate to Southern Virginia College" (Press release). Southern Virginia University. 23 February 2000. Retrieved 2006-07-11.
- Embry, Jessie L. (2008). "Chapter 1: Religion, Sports and Recreation". Spiritualized Recreation: Mormon All-Church Athletic Tournaments and Dance Festivals. Provo, Utah: Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, Brigham Young University. OCLC 268966353. Archived from the original on 2014-11-26.
- Embry, Jessie L. (2009). "'Spiritualized Recreation': LDS All Church Athletic Tournaments, 1950-1971". BYU Studies 48 (3): 92–. OCLC 505153203.
- "First Presidency Statement on Basing of MX Missile", Ensign, June 1981, p. 76.
- "Majority of Mormons Lean Republican; Half Cite Discrimination Against Their Faith". ABC News. 12 January 2012. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
- "Liberal Mormons: A Minority Within a Minority". USA Today. 30 October 2012. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
- President Monson: 'Welcome to conference', Church News, 4 October 2014
- Moskin, Julia (January 24, 2012), Not Just for Sundays After Church: A New Generation Redefines Mormon Cuisine, New York Times, "The basic dinner was meat in cream-of-something soup on mashed something... No one comes to Utah for the food... 'Mormon food' should be seen as part of a larger Western tradition of hearty meals, seasonal eating and food preservation that is in keeping with modern farm-to-table ideals... As the church becomes more international, that Utah Mormon food is no longer the standard... Mormon home cooks are unusually adept in the kitchen by modern standards... In the 1960s, Mormon women (like most Americans) enthusiastically embraced inexpensive convenience foods like canned fruit, instant potatoes and, of course, Jell-O. For some reason, the Utah Mormons took longer to come out of that phase... Powdered milk and eggs; dried beans; canned vegetables, fruit, and even canned meat and cheese are staples of many kitchens. (This may have something to do with the stereotypical blandness of traditional Mormon food.) ... For most Mormons over 40, two standard dishes sum up the tradition: green Jell-O and funeral potatoes. Green Jell-O, a fluffy dessert of whipped cream and crushed pineapple folded into lime gelatin, is a constant presence at parties. Funeral potatoes, a rich casserole of grated potatoes, sour cream, cheese and cream-of-something soup, is delivered to the bereaved, and serves as a side dish for ham on Christmas and Easter. It tastes like the inside of a baked potato mashed with plenty of sour cream and Cheddar, and it takes only one savory, fluffy forkful to see why the dish is a classic."
- See lds.org, byu.edu, and ldsvoices.com for a collection of audio and video resources.
- "Cross", Gospel Topics, LDS.org (LDS Church)
- Reed, Michael (2012). Banishing the Cross: The Emergence of a Mormon Taboo. Independence, Missouri: John Whitmer Books. pp. 67—122. ISBN 978-1934901359. OCLC 844370293.
- "21.2.1 Artwork", 21.2 Policies on Using Church Buildings and Other Property, Handbook 2: Administering the Church (LDS Church), 2010
- Hunter, Howard W. (November 1994), Exceeding Great and Precious Promises, Ensign: 8
- Hinckley, Gordon B. (April 2005), The Symbol of Our Faith, Ensign
- Oaks, Dallin H. (December 1971). "Standards of Dress and Grooming". New Era (LDS Church).
- Stack, Peggy Fletcher (April 5, 2013), How beards became barred among top Mormon leaders, The Salt Lake Tribune
- "FYI: For Your Information". New Era: 48–51. June 1989. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
- Bergera, Gary James; Priddis, Ronald (1985). "Chapter 3: Standards & the Honor Code". Brigham Young University: A House of Faith. Salt Lake City: Signature Books. ISBN 0-941214-34-6. OCLC 12963965.
- "Church Educational System Honor Code", Undergraduate Catalog, 2014-2015, registrar.byu.edu (Brigham Young University), 2014, archived from the original on 2014-11-25
- "Services: Beard Exception", Student Health Center, BYU, archived from the original on 2014-11-25
- Turkewitznov, Julie (November 17, 2014), At Brigham Young, Students Push to Lift Ban on Beards, The New York Times, archived from the original on 2014-11-18
- Evans, Whitney (September 27, 2014), Students rally for beard 'revolution' in Provo, Deseret News
- Knox, Annie (September 26, 2014), BYU student asks school to chop beard ban, The Salt Lake Tribune
- Evans, Whitney (September 27, 2014), Students protest BYU beard restriction, KSL 5 News
- Cutler, Annie (September 26, 2014), 'Bike for Beards' event part of BYU students' fight for facial hair freedom, Fox 13 News (KSTU)
- Knox, Annie (November 24, 2014), Beard ban at Mormon schools getting stricter, students say, The Salt Lake Tribune
- Givins, Terryl L. (2007), People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-516711-2.
- Sorenson, John L. (1997), Mormon Culture: Four Decades of Essays on Mormon Society and Personality, Salt Lake City: New Sage Books, ISBN 1-890902-00-4.
- Yorgason, Ethan R. (1997), Transformation of the Mormon Culture Region, Salt Lake City: New Sage Books, ISBN 0-252-02853-8.