Religious Identity

The identity of the LDS Church alternates between retrenchment from and assimilation to wider society. In the early history of the Church, the LDS lived separately from surrounding communities and relations could be hostile. They were persecuted because other Christians saw them as blasphemous, due to their non-Trinitarianism, and immoral, due to their practice of polygamy. They were driven out of Missouri and Illinois by violence. Laws and court rulings at the end of the 19th century almost destroyed the Church by stripping it of its assets and disenfranchising its members. The Church Americanised from the 1890s onwards with the end of plural marriage. Now Mormons have an identity as patriotic, family-oriented, and hard-working people who look after their own and are generally socially conservative.

They replicate their church structure and organisation exactly wherever they spread, regardless of local conditions. In ecclesiastical matters, the Church tends to work on its own, rather than in cooperation with other local or community organisations. The emphasis on missionary work, evangelism, and proselytizing spring from an understanding that they have a responsibility to share the true Gospel of Christ, but the other side of this can be that they are seen as ‘taking over’ other cultures with different religions and turning them into Mormons.

The Church has a culture of service and sacrifice, seen in the financial payments made to the Church, the voluntary humanitarian work and Church service. Contrary to its ecclesiastical work, in humanitarian and development work, the Church works closely with partners throughout the world. It is standard procedure for the Church to work with other Christian groups, or Muslim, Jewish, or secular relief agencies during disasters or in impoverished regions, to help provide assistance, often behind the scenes and with little fanfare.

Their wider sense of service can also be seen in Utah having had one of the highest rates of enlistment in World War I when the Church motivated its followers to use the notion of sacrifice to aid the war effort.

Education also plays a prominent role. Intelligence is seen as the glory of God. There is an emphasis on the life of mind. Joseph Smith founded an evening school for adults. The Church founded and operates Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, the third largest private higher educational institution in the United States, along with two campuses of the University in Hawaii and Idaho and smaller centres in Jerusalem and London. It also operates the LDS Business College in Salt Lake City. Mormons in general enjoy a higher than average level of educational attainment, and Mormonism reflects one of few religions where religious commitment tends to increase with higher levels of education. BYU has one of the strongest study abroad programmes in the United States, drawing heavily on the former missionaries, who are fluent in foreign languages, and on its strong tradition of international service.

Mormons are also at the forefront in globally promoting freedom of religion or belief through law and education. Each October the BYU Law School hosts preeminent scholars, government and NGO officers, religious leaders, and practising advocates, of any or no faith, at one of the world’s most important regularly recurring conferences on law and religion. They also help monitor religion-related cases before the European Court of Human Rights and other legal bodies.

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Church Of Jesus Christ Of LDS


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