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Religion Library: Mormonism

Sacred Narratives

Written by: Stephen Taysom

Lehi sailed to the Americas where his family split into warring factions named after two of Lehi's sons, Nephi and Laman. The story traces the rise and fall of these civilizations, and emphasizes the evils of pride and the corresponding turn from God's true faith that such an attitude always precipitates. The Nephites, who had been the most righteous branch of Lehi's posterity, eventually succumbed to pride and sin and were vanquished and destroyed by the wild and ferocious Lamanites. These Lamanites, according to the Mormon narrative, are among the ancestors of the Native American tribes. Modern Mormon discourse draws heavily on these motifs from the narrative of The Book of Mormon, especially the oscillating process of repentance, humility, divine blessings, increased hubris, and sin that Mormons refer to as the "pride cycle."

Beyond the scriptural canon, Mormons in their temple worship employ yet another type of sacred narrative. Mormon temples are open only to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) who pass stringent tests of orthodox belief and practice. One ritual performed in the temples is called the "endowment," during which initiates are taken on a symbolic journey. Participants watch as a sacred narrative unfolds that recounts the creation of the earth, the events in the Garden of Eden, and the interaction of Adam and Eve with heavenly messengers who teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ. Initiates then participate in the symbolic entrance into the presence of God, using the knowledge presented by the angels to Adam and Eve.

A final element of Mormon sacred narrative makes use of what may be termed the pioneer epic. The story of early Mormonism is one of frequent persecution and hostility. Modern Mormons, even those outside of the United States, feel a deep sense of attachment to the sacred story of suffering and eventual triumph that follows the Mormons from their early defeats in Missouri and Illinois, their arduous and deadly trek across the Great Plains, and their settlement and prosperity in the remote American West. As with all sacred narrative, the Mormon pioneer epic is often used to contextualize and give perspective to the problems and difficulties of the present by recounting the travails and glories of the past.

Study Questions:
1.     How are Mormon scriptures similar to Christianity? How are they different?
2.     Why do Mormons believe the “fall” of humankind was necessary?
3.     What books are included in the Pearl of Great Price? What stories do they tell?
4.     Who is Lehi? How does Lehi's lineage relate to modern day people?
5.     Describe the ritual of endowment. Why is it a sacred narrative?


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