Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, "Being Green in the Land of the Saints."
The Mormon faith began in 1820, when Joseph Smith, then 14 years old, had a vision of God and Jesus Christ in a grove of trees near his home in Palmyra, N.Y. Three years later, the Angel Moroni appeared to Smith in a vision, and told him to unearth a set of golden plates in the Hill Cumorah. Smith translated the ancient writing on the plates, and published The Book of Mormon in 1830, founding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mormonism is based on the Bible, as well as on three other books, which were translated or received through revelation by Joseph Smith: The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and The Doctrine and Covenants.
Joseph Smith summarized the basic tenets of Mormon belief in the 13 Articles of Faith. The tenth Article of Faith reads: “We believe … that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.”
Smith was the first president and prophet of the church; Brigham Young was the second. Besides the prophet, the top church leaders are his two counselors, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Quorum of the Seventy — collectively, these 85 men are known as “general authorities.”
Latter-day Saints practice the Word of Wisdom, a revelation received by Joseph Smith that admonishes them to abstain from alcohol, tobacco, coffee and black tea. It also advises minimal consumption of meat.
The faithful believe they will live in heaven, known to Mormons as the Celestial Kingdom, with their families forever. Mormons believe that once there, humans can continue to progress until they become gods themselves and create their own worlds.
Mormon theology contains the borderline pantheistic belief that all life forms — plants, animals, even minerals — have souls. Contemporary church leaders have stopped short of taking sides on specific environmental issues, but current LDS Church president and prophet Gordon B. Hinckley has said, “The earth is (the Lord’s) creation. When we make it ugly, we offend Him. When we abuse His works, we abuse Him.”