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Mormonism For Dummies®


by Jana Riess, PhD, and Christopher Kimball Bigelow




About the Authors

Jana Riess, PhD, is the Religion Book Review Editor for Publishers Weekly magazine and is also the author of The Spiritual Traveler: Boston and New England (HiddenSpring) and What Would Buffy Do?: The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide (Jossey-Bass). She holds degrees in religion from Wellesley College and Princeton Theological Seminary, and a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University. She is frequently interviewed by the media on trends in religion and publishing. A convert to the LDS Church, Riess has spoken at Brigham Young University Women’s Conference and other Mormon gatherings, as well as professional conferences. She lives in Kentucky with her husband and daughter.

Christopher Kimball Bigelow is the great-great-great-grandson of a Mormon apostle who had more than 40 wives. He served an LDS mission in Melbourne, Australia, and worked as an editor at the LDS Church’s official Ensign magazine. A graduate of Emerson College and Brigham Young University, Bigelow cofounded and edited the Mormon literary magazine Irreantum and the satirical Mormon newspaper The Sugar Beet, and he’s working on a memoir and a novel. A Hodgkin’s disease survivor and the oldest of ten siblings, he lives with his wife and four children in Provo, Utah. You can reach him at chrisbigelow@gmail.com.



From Jana: To Sister Wibiral and Sister Lundblade, two of the most caring missionaries to have ever served anywhere, with much gratitude.

From Chris: To the memory of my pioneer Mormon ancestors, who made choices and sacrifices that bless me every day of my life.


Authors’ Acknowledgments

We want to thank our mutual agent, Linda Roghaar, who introduced us to each other and encouraged us to collaborate on this project. We also want to thank Kathy Cox, our acquisitions editor, and Chrissy Guthrie, our project editor, who have overseen this book from concept to finished product. Historian Jan Shipps served as our technical review editor and provided important expert commentary on every chapter during the revision stage. We also need to thank those friends, family members, and colleagues who graciously and carefully took the time to comment on some or all of this manuscript: David Allred, Paris Anderson, Ann Bigelow, Mitzie Bigelow, Sylvia Cabus, Andrew Hall, Tona Hangen, Grant and Heather Hardy, Heidi and Tyler Jarvis, Sammie Justesen, Ken Kuykendall, Jonathan and Laurel Langford, Tania and John Lyon, Brian Maxwell, Henry and Carol Miles, Benson Parkinson, Robert Slaven, Phyllis Tickle, Darlene Young, and Margaret Young. Although this book isn’t authorized or approved by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we appreciate the help of the Church’s Public Affairs Department in providing up-to-date information and statistics.

Jana thanks her family, especially her husband Phil, for love and unflagging support, and also her friends Ray, Roberta, and Angela Black for enduring friendship and incomparable hospitality.

Chris thanks his wife, Ann, for her feedback and support, as well as many friends and family members who offered encouragement.


Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registration form located at www.dummies.com/register/.

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Christina Guthrie

Acquisitions Editor: Kathy Cox

Copy Editor: Kristin DeMint

Editorial Program Assistant: Courtney Allen

Technical Editor: Jan Shipps, PhD

Editorial Manager: Christine Meloy Beck

Media Development Manager: Laura VanWinkle

Editorial Assistants: Hanna Scott, Melissa Bennett, Nadine Bell

Cover Photo: © Bernd Wittelsbach/iStockphoto

Cartoons: Rich Tennant, www.the5thwave.com


Project Coordinator: Emily Wichlinski

Layout and Graphics: Andrea Dahl, Stephanie D. Jumper, Barry Offringa, Jacque Roth,

Proofreaders: Leeann Harney, Jessica Kramer, TECHBOOKS Production Services

Indexer: Aptara

Special Help: Carmen Krikorian

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director, Consumer Dummies

Kristin A. Cocks, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Michael Spring, Vice President and Publisher, Travel

Brice Gosnell, Associate Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

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Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services




About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I : What the Mormon Faith Is All About

Chapter 1: A New World Religion

Why Know about Mormonism?

The Mormon Worldview

Joseph Smith and Mormonism’s Beginnings

Day-to-Day Mormon Life

What Makes Mormonism Different?

Chapter 2: The Mormon Plan of Salvation

Mormon Karma: The Premortal Life

Acing the Test of Mortality

The Afterlife: Eternal Progression

Chapter 3: Heavenly Parents, Savior, and Holy Ghost

The Head Honcho: God the Father

Second Mate: Christ the Son

God’s Whisperer: The Holy Ghost

Chapter 4: Restoring the Priesthood and the Church

Gospel Comings and Goings

Beginning the Restoration

Bringing Back the Church Step by Step

Understanding the Priesthood

Chapter 5: Together Forever: The Eternal Importance of Family

The Eternal Family Unit

Shaking the Family Tree: Family History Work

God’s People: The Family of Israel

Personal Prophecy: Patriarchal Blessings

Part II : Eternal Rituals and Endless Meetings

Chapter 6: Welcome to the Meetinghouse!

What’s a Ward?

Participating in the Ward

Participating in the Stake

Chapter 7: Sacred, Not Secret: Inside Mormon Temples

Distinguishing the Temple from the Meetinghouse

Temple Ordinances — Why Mormons Go to the Temple

Becoming Eligible for Temple Ordinances

Finally! Receiving Your Own Temple Ordinances

Sealing Families for Eternity

Chapter 8: In and around Church Headquarters

A Tour of Church Headquarters

Governing the Church: General Authorities

A Two-Day Marathon: General Conference

The LDS Welfare Program and Humanitarian Relief

Survival of the Smartest: Mormons and Education

Part III : Holy Books and Sacred History

Chapter 9: The Bible and the Book of Mormon

The Bible: True, with a Few Tweaks

Getting Acquainted with the Book of Mormon

How the Book of Mormon Came to Be

The Book of Mormon in Mormon Life

Chapter 10: Mormonism’s Other Scriptures

A Scriptural Hodgepodge: The Pearl of Great Price

Modern-Day Revelations in the D&C

The Beat Goes On: Recent Revelations Not Found in the D&C

Chapter 11: Searching for a Home

A Significant Pit Stop: Kirtland, Ohio

Seeking Zion in Missouri

Nauvoo, Illinois: A Refuge on the Mississippi

Chapter 12: Moving on to Utah with Brigham Young

A Crisis of Leadership

The Lion of the Lord: Brigham Young

Westward Ho! The Pioneer Experience

Mormon Groups That Didn’t Go West

Chapter 13: Building the Kingdom in Utah

Building Zion

Conflicts with the Outside World

Polygamy: A Divine Principle (But an Outdated Practice)

Mormonism in Transition

Part IV : Mormonism Today

Chapter 14: Called to Serve: Missionaries and International Growth

Missionaries of All Shapes and Sizes

Enlisting in God’s Army

Living the Missionary Life

Rapid Growth: Mormonism around the World

Chapter 15: Hot-Button Issues for Mormons

Race and Gender Controversies

Hullabaloo over History and Holy Books

Voices in Conflict

Beyond Heterosexual Monogamy

Chapter 16: Sacrificing on Earth to Receive Blessings in Heaven

Chase and Be Chaste: The Law of Chastity

Whaddya Mean, No Coffee? Living the Word of Wisdom

Tithing: Paying the Lord’s Tax

Fast Sunday: The Slowest Sabbath of the Month

Chapter 17: Connecting with God and Each Other

What Mormons Do Daily . . . Ideally

What Mormons Do Weekly . . . Ideally

What Mormons Do Monthly . . . Ideally

Chapter 18: In the World but Not of the World

Becoming Self-Reliant

Crafting, Chronicling, and Stuffing Face: Mormon Traditions

Taking in a Bit of Culture

Part V : The Part of Tens

Chapter 19: Ten Famous Mormons

Jane Clayson

Stephen R. Covey

Liriel Domiciano

Richard Paul Evans

Orrin Hatch

Gladys Knight

The Osmond Family

Mitt Romney

Sharlene Wells

Steve Young

Chapter 20: Quick Answers to Ten Common Questions About Mormonism

Are Mormons Christian?

How Can Mormons Give Up 10 Percent of Their Income?

What Happens inside an LDS Temple?

Why Don’t Mormons Drink Alcohol or Coffee?

Why Do Mormons Have Such Large, Strong Families?

Do Mormons Believe in the Bible or Just the Book of Mormon?

Do Mormons Really Believe that Humans Can Become Gods?

Why Can’t Women Hold the Priesthood?

Do Mormons Still Practice Polygamy?

How Can Mormons Revere Joseph Smith?

Chapter 21: Ten Mormon Places to Visit

Sharon, Vermont

Palmyra, New York

Kirtland, Ohio

Nauvoo and Carthage, Illinois


Winter Quarters, Nebraska, and Council Bluffs, Iowa

Martin’s Cove, Wyoming

Salt Lake City, Utah

Provo, Utah

Polynesian Cultural Center, Hawaii

End User License Agreement


If you’re picking up this book, you may already know that Mormonism is one of the world’s fastest-growing religions. With more than 5 million members in the United States, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the fifth-largest religious body in the nation. It also has nearly 7 million more people on the rolls around the world. Almost all this growth has happened in the last 25 years, making Mormonism a hot topic that many people want to understand better.

In this book, we help you do just that. If you don’t know a Mormon from a Moravian, you find the basics here for most everything you need to understand. We don’t assume that you have any background. At the same time, even if you are a Mormon, you may find information in this book that helps you understand your religion more thoroughly and with fresh perspective.

About This Book

Don’t feel that you have to read this book straight through from cover to cover. Each chapter is a self-contained unit, designed to give you information about that particular topic. Where relevant, we also include cross-references to show you where to find more information. This way, you can find what you want quickly and skip over the stuff that seems less important to you.

One more thing: Although we’re both practicing members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the views you find in this book are unofficial and don’t necessarily represent the opinions of the Church’s leadership. Furthermore, although we tried our best to capture the broadest cross-section possible and to present a range of viewpoints, we certainly can’t claim that every Mormon you meet will agree with everything we say. Throughout the book, we refer you to a few other books that the Church does produce and sanction, and we also point you to the Church’s official Web site, www.lds.org.

Conventions Used in This Book

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has some style preferences that we adopted for this book. You won’t see the term Mormon Church here, because Mormon is a nickname and the Church would rather have people use its official name. We do use LDS Church for short, instead of spelling out the whole name each time. You’ll also see the word Mormon used as an adjective or a noun to refer to members of the Church.

In addition, you may notice a bit of fuss about the capitalization of church. Here’s the deal: Whenever we’re referring to other denominations or to churches in general, we use little c. But when we’re talking about the LDS Church as a specific denomination, we use capital C.

When it comes to the Bible, we stick with what Mormons love best: the good ol’ King James Version (KJV for short). Because the other Mormon scriptures are distinctively Mormon, they only come in one lingo — and it reads very much like the KJV. When we reference a particular verse or range of verses in any of the scriptures, we follow the standard: For example, in the Bible, Matthew 10:1 refers to Matthew as the book, 10 as the chapter number, and 1 as the verse.

To add a little spice, we threw in a few formatting conventions:

bullet Anytime we introduce a new term, we italicize it and define it.

bullet Web sites or e-mail addresses appear in monofont to help them stand out.

bullet Anytime we suggest typing keywords into an Internet search engine, we put them in boldface.

Foolish Assumptions

While writing this book, we assumed that many of our readers aren’t going to be Mormons, but some will be. Maybe you fit into one of these groups:

bullet You’ve got Mormon friends, neighbors, relatives, or co-workers, and you’re naturally curious about their faith.

bullet You’ve heard something or read an article about Mormonism, and it made you wonder what Mormons believe.

bullet You’re thinking of joining the LDS Church and want to know more about it.

bullet You’re a new Mormon convert trying to better understand what you’ve gotten yourself into.

bullet You’re an established Mormon, and you want this book to give to someone else who fits in one of the first four categories. Or maybe you like to read different perspectives on your own faith.

How This Book Is Organized

Even though Mormonism is a relatively young religion, packing more than 180 years of history and belief into one introductory book is still a tough job. Obviously, we’ve had to omit some things. Our goal here is to give you the down-and-dirty (actually, make that down-and-squeaky-clean) story of the Mormon religion and its people.

To make it easy for you to find exactly what you’re looking for, we divided this book into several parts, each covering a broad topic. Each part contains several chapters that relate more specifically to that topic.

Part I: What the Mormon Faith Is All About

This part deals with the basics: Who are the Mormons, and what do they believe? Here you find the Mormon view on the meaning of life, the nature of God, and what happens to people after they die. You also read about the Mormon concept of priesthood and the idea of a restored church with 12 apostles and a living prophet. We explore why Mormons emphasize family and what it means to believe that families can be together forever.

Part II: Eternal Rituals and Endless Meetings

This part outlines the day-to-day workings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from the activities and organizations of the local congregations to the hierarchy of leaders at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City. We help you understand what to do if you’re invited to a Mormon church serv-ice, baptism, or funeral. We also take a sneak peek inside the temple, the most sacred place in Mormon life, and explain why temples are so significant for Mormons.

Part III: Holy Books and Sacred History

In this part, we walk you through the four sacred texts that Latter-day Saints regard as scripture (the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price) and explain what Mormons believe about continuing revelation. We also spend some time with the pioneers, giving you the highlights — and lowlights — of Mormon history from 1820 onward.

Part IV: Mormonism Today

This part explores Mormonism as a worldwide religion, focusing on its rapid international growth and the role of missionary work. Here you get to understand who those clean-shaven, well-dressed Mormon missionaries are and what their lives are like. We also give you Mormon perspectives on some controversial issues, such as racism, polygamy, homosexuality, and women’s roles. Then we delve into Mormon spiritual practices, from paying tithing and remaining chaste to praying daily and reading the scriptures. Finally, we help you understand the Mormon emphasis on self-reliance and look at Mormon culture, from the highbrow (the Mormon Tabernacle Choir) to the lowbrow (green Jell-O salad).

Part V: The Part of Tens

Every For Dummies book has a part of tens, which is a quick and entertaining way to get the basics. Here, we include answers to ten frequently asked questions about Mormonism, introduce you to ten (well, almost) famous Latter-day Saints, and profile ten places to visit if you’re interested in finding out more about Mormon history.

Icons Used in This Book

This book uses the following icons to help you find information you need or to highlight ideas you may find particularly helpful.


This icon points to areas of disagreement, either within the Mormon community or among outsiders who have criticized the Mormon faith.


This icon calls attention to elements of the Mormon past that are still very relevant to Mormon belief and practice today.


You find this icon next to significant information that you’ll want to remember.


This icon appears next to most quotes from the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, or Pearl of Great Price.


This icon points to hands-on information to help you make sense of Mormon belief or practice.

Where to Go from Here

Mormonism For Dummies is like a big Sunday buffet at Grandma’s house. You can eat as many of the yeast rolls as you want, and you don’t have to touch the peas if you don’t want to. In other words, in this book we bring a little bit of everything to the table: history, doctrine, fun facts, spiritual disciplines, culture, and scripture. You can go to any section and discover Mormonism, choosing what interests you the most.

If you’re coming to this book with a specific question in mind, feel free to look up that topic in the index or table of contents and start with that section. Others may want to start with Chapter 1, which gives an overview of the whole Mormon topic. There’s no wrong way to eat this buffet — just enjoy the meal.

Part I

What the Mormon Faith Is All About

In this part . . .

H ere you find out the basics about what Mormons believe, including important stuff about God, Jesus Christ, the premortal life, the plan of salvation, and the afterlife. You also discover what happened in the 19th century when Joseph Smith was called as a prophet to restore the church of Jesus Christ and how the Mormon priesthood is organized and used today. Finally, you get to know more about the family: Why is the family such an important concept in Mormonism? Why do Mormons tend to have larger-than-usual families? Why are they so into genealogy?