• Augustine of Hippo
  • Demiana
  • Mary of Egypt
  • John the Dwarf
  • The Latter-day Saints
  • Etheldreda

The Latter-day Saints

				The Latter-day Saints
Life 6
Humility 1
Works 7
Martyrdom 5
Influence 4

'Still pure above all that is pure, they remain'

At the turn of the 19th Century, newly independent America was growing in self-belief. It had natural resources. It had the beginnings of a national identity. It still had passenger pigeons. It was also home to many profoundly religious people; yet their religion was still one of the Old World, from which the nation had spilt blood to sever itself.

It was, perhaps, inevitable that an American religion should arise, and it did so through Joseph Smith, Jr. More precisely, it arose through a native American angel called Moroni, who helped Smith to unearth the golden Plates of Nephi. The writings upon these plates, as translated by Smith, with the aid of special 'seer stones', would form the basis of the Book of Mormon, intended as the first major addition to Christian scripture since the third century AD.

Where the Old and New Testaments were disappointingly silent about the role of the Americas in God's plan, the Book of Mormon restored balance. It explained that not only had America been populated by refugees from ancient Babylon and Jerusalem, but that it had also experienced a visitation by the resurrected Jesus Christ. More than that, the Americas were a land of special promise, with a particular role to play in God's vision.

In the Protestant tradition, Smith's church regarded all of its followers as saints. It would attract controversy and outright hostility from more traditional Christians, thanks in part to the Mormon predeliction for taking multiple wives. Finding themselves unwelcome wherever they went, the Mormons eventually embarked on the gruelling journey to settle in deserted Utah.

To Mormon believers, Joseph Smith, Jr was simply carrying out the will of the Lord and of the angel Moroni. To others, he was a deluded individual whose actions stemmed from messianic arrogance. Neither side typically uses the expression 'shrinking violet' in connection with him.

As well as the Book of Mormon, two other works by Joseph Smith are considered scripture in the mainstream Church of the Latter-day Saints: the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. The Church itself has been incredibly vigorous both in missionary and humanitarian work.

On June 27, 1844, Joseph Smith was awaiting trial on charges of treason when the jail at Carthage, Illinois was overrun by a murderous mob. Many more members of the Church of Latter-day Saints would also meet violent ends in years to come, some at each other's hands. Others fell by the wayside on the Mormons' legendary trek to Salt Lake City.

Although Joseph Smith's claims are accepted only by a tiny minority of Christians, that minority nonetheless numbers in the tens of millions. Should Mitt Romney achieve the Republican nomination in 2012, he could go on to be the first Mormon President of the United States. Which would be interesting.