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Religion Library: Mormonism

Modern Age

Written by: Stephen Taysom

Polygamous splinter sects that garner much media attention also pose problems for modern Mormonism.  The LDS Church resents the application of the name "Mormon" to these groups and seeks to distance itself from them.  The sects that practice plural marriage claim that they are being true to the memory and teachings of Joseph Smith and that the LDS Church has yielded fundamental religious principles in exchange for cultural acceptance.

Since the 1970s, the LDS Church has aligned itself with other conservative religious organizations in the U.S. on issues in the so-called culture wars.  Mormon leaders encouraged members of the Church to oppose the Equal Rights Amendment on the grounds that the legislation would encourage women to work outside of the home, thus undermining the stability of the traditional family unit.  For similar reasons, in the fall of 2008, the LDS Church marshaled significant support in California for Proposition 8, a ballot proposal that established the legal definition of marriage as applying only to unions as between a man and a woman.  Along with conservative Evangelical Christians, Mormon leaders publicly stated their opposition to same-sex marriages and their belief that such marriages represented a threat to civilization. 

Despite LDS cooperation with the powerful, conservative Evangelical Protestant churches in the U.S. on social and cultural issues, many Evangelical churches insist that a variety of theological views disqualify Mormonism as a Christian church.  Mormonism in the 21st century enjoys less cultural approval than it did in the mid-20th century because of its alienation from progressive secular culture on one hand and the theological enmity of the religious right on the other.

On an organizational level, modern Mormonism is much more sophisticated than it was in the early years. During the 20th century, Mormonism became highly bureaucratized as the Church continued to expand around the world and encountered increasingly demanding and complex circumstances. To serve congregations across the globe, the LDS Church maintains a large translation department and continues to train thousands of missionaries each year in languages needed in the Church's vast proselytizing enterprise. The Church builds hundreds of meetinghouses each year across the globe and now has more than 150 operating temples.

Study Questions:
1.     Was there a connection between polygamy and statehood? Explain.
2.     How have Mormons been involved with U.S. politics?
3.     Why was Mormonism controversial throughout the civil rights movement? How was it resolved?
4.     Why have favorable opinions about Mormonism declined in the 21st century?


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