The Church of Christ (the original name for the Mormon Church) was organized with six founding members in Fayette, New York on April 6, 1830. (The full name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was given by revelation in 1838. It is because of this name that members are referred to as being “LDS”.) Most of these earliest members were the Prophet Joseph Smith’s family and friends. But the Mormon Church would grow quickly, and persecution would grow with it. Since growth was particularly strong in Kirtland, Ohio, the Church moved there. The Church would move several more times – to western Missouri, to Illinois, and finally to Utah, which was, at that time, not part of the United States.
All attempts to wipe out or dislodge the Saints from that region failed and official persecution ended near the close of the nineteenth century. This left the Mormon Church free to grow in members and prosperity – and it has. The Mormon religion has spread far beyond its headquarters and become an international church. Most Mormons today do not live in the United States.
Outline of Mormon History
Joseph Smith Jr. has the First Vision — God the Father and Jesus Christ appear to him. Later, the Angel Moroni comes to him and gives him golden plates. He translates the Book of Mormon from these plates, publishes it, and organizes the Church of Christ (Mormon Church). Missionaries go out almost immediately to convert and are successful. Persecution rises almost as immediately. (See more)
Kirtland, Ohio becomes main gathering place of Mormons. Joseph Smith receives many revelations. Other Mormons move to Missouri, hoping to build Zion. Kirtland, Ohio, is the site of the first Mormon temple. Joseph translates the Book of Abraham. The Doctrine and Covenants is published. Missionaries visit Canada and England. Joseph Smith establishes the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Zion’s Camp is organized and launched to aid persecuted Mormons in Missouri. The Mormon Church itself moves to Missouri in 1838. (See more)
Mormons first settle Jackson County, Missouri, in 1831. They are driven from the county by mobs by 1833. Clay County is temporarily settled by Mormons, who move more permanently to Caldwell and Davies counties in 1836. But these counties are also sites of mob harassment. Some Mormons fight back. One group of Mormons organizes the Danites, who fight back. When the rest of the Mormon Church moves to Missouri, the conflict escalates. Joseph Smith and others are arrested and thrown in jail for several months without trial. The Extermination Order issued by Governor Boggs forces Mormons out of Missouri. Dozens of Mormons are massacred at Haun’s Mill, others are burned out of their homes. Brigham Young leads the Mormon flight to Illinois. (See more)
The Mormons found a city in Illinois – Nauvoo. Within a few years, it rivals Chicago for size. Mormon missionaries preach throughout Europe, with particular success in England and Scandinavia. Construction on the Nauvoo Temple begins. Persecution, however, does not cease, and Joseph Smith often has to hide from enemies. He receives revelations on plural marriage, baptism for the dead, eternal marriage, and the plan of salvation. June 1844 marks the murder of Joseph Smith and his brother. The Twelve Apostles lead the Church. The Nauvoo temple is finished in 1846, but the Mormons are driven out of Nauvoo the same year. (See more)
Mormons scatter through Iowa until the Mormon Trail to Utah is established. The Mormon Battalion participates in the U.S.-Mexican War and explores California. Cities are established by Mormon pioneers in Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, and Idaho – as well as northern Mexico and southern Canada. This period marks ten years of peace for the Mormon Church. Brigham Young is sustained as president of the Church during this time. (See more)
Former Utah officials, through political pressure and lies, induce President James Buchanan to send Johnston’s Army to Utah to quell a nonexistent rebellion. Brigham Young is dismissed as Utah’s governor, but not notified. Mormons, not wishing to be driven out again, harass Johnston’s Army by burning grass and scattering horses. The army finally concludes that there is no rebellion and establish a peace. Unfortunately, fears provoked by the idea of invasion drove some Mormons to massacre settlers bound for California – this is called the Mountain Meadows massacre. (See more)
During the Civil War, the Mormon Church is largely left again to peace. Mormon missionary work continues throughout the world – into Mexico and South America and parts of Asia and Europe. After the Civil War, the U.S. Congress passes several laws that outlaw polygamy. Thousands of Mormons are ultimately jailed, and others are forbidden to vote, hold office, or own property. To keep Mormons out of jobs, loyalty oaths are instituted. Church leaders go into hiding and many Mormons flee to Mexico and Canada. After Mormon prophet and president Wilford Woodruff receives revelation from the Lord, the practice of Mormon polygamy is discontinued. Later, U.S. President Grover Cleveland will pardon all polygamists. During this period, thousands of European Mormons come to Utah. (See more)
The next few decades are marked by a period of peace in the history of Mormonism. The Mormon Church begins to become prosperous again, although it will take some time to be able to pay off all the debts brought on by persecution. And some types of persecution still exist. Reed Smoot, a Mormon Apostle, must fight for two years to take his seat in the U.S. Senate after being elected. President Joseph F. Smith receives an important revelation about salvation for the dead. The Mormon Church celebrates its centennial and begins buying historic sites. During the Great Depression, the Church creates the Church Welfare system to help its members. Mormons outside of the United States stop moving to Utah enmasse – most stay where they are. Missionary work in South America and the Pacific islands bring thousands to the Church, and Mormon temples are built in Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and Hawaii. Mormons find themselves on both sides of the conflict of World War II and many are trapped behind the Iron Curtain after the war. (See more)
Following World War II, the Mormon Church begins to grow exponentially. Mormon temples grow in number alongside this growth of church population. One temple is even built in East Germany while under Soviet control. President David O. McKay becomes the most widely traveled Mormon president to that date. Mormon welfare and humanitarian programs expand, and the Church provides valuable aid to the reconstruction of Europe and Japan. Missionary training centers are established to help missionaries learn the many and growing languages in the Mormon Church. David O. McKay encourages all members to be missionaries and the Lord reveals to one of his successors, Spencer W. Kimball, that all male members should serve as missionaries. The number in the missionary force of the Church rises to over 50,000. This growth makes it necessary to streamline Church government and Church programs through correlation programs. The Mormon Church’s growth in Brazil and Africa prompts Mormon prophet Spencer W. Kimball to pray about the ban on blacks from the priesthood. In 1978, he receives a revelation that all worthy male members may receive the priesthood. The Mormon Church grows exponentially in Brazil and Africa. In the 1980s, the Church focuses on the translation of the Book of Mormon into dozens of world languages and Mormons answer the call to “flood the earth” with it. (See more)
Since the early 1990s, the Mormon Church has surpassed 13,000,000 members worldwide. Much of this growth occurs in South America and Africa as well as in the countries of the former Soviet Union, especially Russia. More Mormons live outside the United States than inside it by the late 1990s. Hundreds of new church meeting houses need to be built every year. Gordon B. Hinckley becomes president of the Church in 1995. He surpasses David O. McKay as most widely traveled Mormon prophet. The “Proclamation to the World,” a statement regarding the role and nature of the family and its modern breakdown, and “The Living Christ,” a statement about the mission of Jesus Christ, are issued. Gordon B. Hinckley receives a revelation that more temples should be built. By the year 2000, more than 100 Mormon temples are in operation worldwide, spread from China, to South America, to Europe, to Africa. The Nauvoo temple, destroyed by arsonists in 1846, is rebuilt. Mormons also celebrate the sesquicentennial of the Mormon pioneers’ journey to Utah and, in 2005, they celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of Joseph Smith. (See more)