Digest of terms

Mormon ethics

These have been developed by the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints centring on the Book of Mormon as found buried since the 5th century in or near Palmyra in New York under the guidance of the angel Moroni by Joseph Smith.

The family is revered as the basic forum for socializing children into godly ways and discipline. Families have often been large, not only because of the initial practice of polygamy. This was renounced in 1890, though whether because of intrinsic theological conviction - it had been justified as being in imitation of the Old Testament patriarchs - or in order to become more socially and politically acceptable has been much debated. Statehood for Utah might not have been achieved without the change.Family size was also boosted by a belief in pre-mortal existence so that opportunity should be given to spirits waiting to be born. Minority Mormon communities have persisted in the practice of polygamy, leading at times to highly publicized confrontations with the state prompted by concern for children's welfare.

Controversy has also surrounded the traditional exclusion of Afro-Caribbeans from ministerial roles within the church, a dark skin having been regarded as a mark of Cain and therefore a sign of wickedness, and non-whites regarded as inferior races. The policy was finally rejected in 1978, when access to the priesthood was permitted. A minority of committed members left the church in protest, as had also happened in connection with the rejection of polygamy.

Attitudes to other Christian churches have also changed dramatically. Having previously denounced them as in the pay of Satan, Mormons today are involved in ecumenical and indeed interfaith activities, teaching religious tolerance.

Mormons uphold a strict sexual ethic, and renounce tea, coffee, tobacco and alcohol. Education is highly prized, and Mormon scholars are often widely respected in their various fields. Members are required to tithe interest on savings, and expected to forgo two meals a month and give the money saved to help support those in need: the church has a wide ranging and effective welfare programme.

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