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A closer look at the Latter-Day Saints

To a nonmember, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a new faith that's less than 200 years old. But this is how Mormons see it: "It's an older faith in the fact of what it is, because we believe in the church of Jesus Christ," says Bishop Randy Rummage. He leads the Pineville Ward- or congregation- in South Charlotte. He says, "It's the church that he established when he was on earth. Now, through a series of things such as the death of the Apostles after the savior's crucifixion, some essential parts of the church were lost. And the church was taken away." Mormons consider the accounts of both the Old and New testaments to be true. But they believe that after the original apostles died, the church founded by Jesus Christ was lost to the splintered factions of the Roman and Orthodox Catholic churches. They don't believe in the Trinity. Instead they believe that God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost are three separate beings, and they call this the "Godhead." In 1830, Joseph Smith founded the church in New York. Church history says when Smith was a teenager he meditated over which mainline Christian church to join. During that prayer, he was visited by two ethereal beings, Jesus and his father, God. This scene is reenacted in an educational video produced by the LDS. Smith says in a vision an angel sent him to collect the golden plates that contained the Book of Mormon. Smith translated the book. He proclaimed these to be writings of prophets who came from Jerusalem to the Americas after being persecuted for believing in Jesus Christ. In these latter days or modern history, the resurrected Jesus visits the Americas. Smith was the first prophet of the church which they sometimes call the LDS. A prophet has a sacred calling to head the church until his death. During the prophet's tenure, 12 men serve as apostles. The prophet's successor is one of the 12. Today there are more than 13 million Mormons worldwide with about 6 million in the U-S. Church leaders in the Charlotte area say there are about 10,000 members locally. Because this faith was established in relatively recent times- compared to two thousand years ago- it's been subjected to criticism. Some leaders of other Christian denominations have derided it as a cult. Charlotte Stake President Tom Cheney takes offense and says there's nothing secret about the church. He says, "We're exactly the opposite of that. We're not a closed society. We don't follow blindly. We invite all to join us. We are open about our beliefs." Mormon scholar Jan Shipps is not an LDS member. She says mainline Christians, especially Presbyterians and Evangelicals are most critical of the faith. "Mormons are not Trinitarians. They understand that Jesus and Christ are two separate personages- anthropomorphic in beings. That is, they are similar to human beings," says Shipps. LDS members worship at a chapel or meeting house. Each congregation is called a ward and each ward is part of a stake or region. Stakes get advice from 70 leaders who answer to church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. Cheney says, "I would like for people to know of our deep faith in our lord Jesus Christ and of his divine mission on the earth, of the saving power of the atonement in his life." Mormons learn about this by reading scripture, writings of their modern day prophets and taking numerous classes over a lifetime. On a recent Sunday, a group of three to eight year olds at a church meeting house in South Charlotte are learning the basics. A teacher holds up a copy of the Book of Mormon and asks the children what she's holding. "Scripture!" shouts a small boy. There is no Mormon theological school. Teenagers attend what's called seminary. For all four years of high school they go to religious education courses at the crack of down, five days a week. Boys as young as 12 can be called to serve as priests with a sort of junior status. Richard Morrell is a spokesman for the Charlotte Stake. He gives a tour of Sunday activities at the meeting house that has multiple classrooms and a sanctuary. He says, "Nobody's compelled to go to anything. You don't show up and get a certificate of completion or anything like that." The LDS belief regarding family bonds is what attracted Laura Vire to the faith. Before joining a year ago, Vire was pregnant with her first child. "You're sealed to your family on earth forever. So once we leave here and go and join our father in heaven we can be together as a family as we were here on earth. You are able to stay together as a family," says Vire. Mormons believe the act of "sealing" is an ordinance of Jesus Christ. Sealing ceremonies can only take place at Mormon temples- and only Mormons deemed worthy by the church are allowed in. Morrell, the spokesman, gives one example of the significance of "sealing": "To a lot of people it's disconcerting to learn you're getting married, here's the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, to hear 'til death do us part.' And you say, 'Why do I want to spend the rest of my life building something that just dissolves?' If we get married by the powers of God, then that can last forever." According to Mormon teaching, what lasts forever is a person's spirit. In fact, it exists before a person is born. Stake President Tom Cheney explains, "As we came here it was a uniting of spirit and body and when we part this life it will be separation of spirit and body again. During the resurrection we're promised that body will be united with that spirit." That takes place in heaven. This belief of what happens after death is another difference between Mormons and mainline Christians. Mormon scholar Jan Shipps explains, "Most Protestants and Catholics have a belief in the- not in the bodily resurrection- but the endurance of the soul." Cheney says the best way for people to wrap their minds around this concept is to learn more. And he says all they have to do is seek out members and ask. This story was produced as part of our periodic series on the Charlotte area's faith communities. Here are some past stories: Bible Belt shift The Greek Orthodox church in Charlotte Unity despite tensions in Charlotte's Episcopal community Unitarian Universalism: Religion on your own terms