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Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)  
 
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Considered by some sociologists to be a contender for the newest major world religion, but denigrated by others, including some Evangelical Christians, as merely a cult, the socially and politically conservative Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long been antagonistic to the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people.

Not only are Mormons excluded from the religion's bright promise of eternal family bliss, but, over the past two decades, a substantial portion of the wealth and power of the LDS Church has been used to oppose gay rights legislation and support anti-gay initiatives and candidates.

Sponsor Message.

As for gay men and lesbians within the Church, official Mormon response has varied from excommunication to requiring "reparative therapy," with more liberal elements calling for acceptance of gay men and lesbians who manage, through prayer and fasting, to overcome their homosexual desires and remain celibate for life.

However, in spite of attacks from their Church, queer Mormons do exist, both inside and outside the official Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some are closeted, hiding their identities while continuing to attend and even rise to leadership positions within the Church. Some have formed more open-minded (and unsanctioned) sects, such as the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ, in which they attempt to reformulate the aspects of Mormonism that they find spiritually nurturing. Still others have totally rejected the Church, defining themselves as "recovering Mormons" who must work to heal the damage done to their self-esteem by a religious dogma that demonizes gay and lesbian identity.

History and Beliefs

Headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is by far the largest denomination that originated from the Latter Day Saint Movement founded by Joseph Smith (1805-1844) in 1830. The Church claims approximately 13 million members worldwide, with about half those numbers in the United States and Canada. Organized complexly and hierarchically, it is governed by a small and secretive group of men, the Melchizedek Priesthood, the President of which is the President of the Church.

The "Mormon belt" stretches from Colorado to Hawaii and from Canada into Mexico. In these areas where large populations of LDS members reside, including Utah and Idaho, the Church exerts tremendous political and economic influence. While the Church attempts to keep its assets and political maneuvering out of the public eye, some analysts estimate that it may control as much as $30 billion.

The Church traces its origins to a small but passionate sect led by Smith, who grew up in the town of Palmyra in western New York state, part of the "burnt-over" district, so called because of the local evangelical religious fervor.

According to Mormon teachings, Smith was only fifteen years old when he had his first religious vision, a visitation by God and Jesus who told him that he was destined to found the only true church. Further visits revealed a set of ancient writings that Smith was directed to translate into pseudo-Elizabethan English. Among these writings is the Book of Mormon, named after one of the angels from whom Smith claimed to have received his revelations.

The Mormon holy books--the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price--lay out the basic tenets of the religion, including an historical background, which involves an ancient civilization on the American continents begun around 600 B.C.E. by Jewish immigrants from Jerusalem. Jesus supposedly visited the Americas soon after his Crucifixion and Resurrection and converted this "lost tribe" of Israel. The LDS Church supposes that the tribes of native people who inhabited North and South America before the arrival of European conquerors are the last remaining descendants of these ancient Middle Eastern people.

Mormons consider themselves to be Christians, but see themselves as separate from the Catholic or Protestant traditions. The Church is sometimes described as a Restorationist organization, because it teaches that there was a Great Apostasy, and that it is the only true restoration of the original Christian Church organized by Christ. Thus, Jesus is viewed as the head of the Church, leading it through periodic revelations to a small hierarchy of priestly leaders. The highest-ranking leader, the President of the Church, is considered a prophet and an apostle.

Latter-day Saints believe in the divine authority of the Old Testament and New Testament, as far as they are translated correctly, but they also believe the revelation is completed in the additional books of their scriptural canon.

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A daguerreotype depicting Joseph Smith created in 1843. Smith was the founder of Latter Day Saint Movement.
  
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