According to claims made by Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, Jesus Christ, the Bible and America are the basis of the new religion he founded more than a hundred years ago in the United States. However, no Christian denomination has ever recognized the religion that Smith created as a Christian faith or an extension of Christianity. Instead, it is seen as a unique new religion with a theology of its own. The Mormons, as Smith's followers would later be commonly called, see themselves as the new Israel, God's chosen people, who wandered through America until they came to the promised land, now known as Utah.
Smith said he had received a revelation, which would ultimately lead to the restoration of the true church and its priesthood, that had been lost. He believed this priesthood and authority had been lost for centuries, until he had his revelation during the 1820s near Palmyra, New York. Smith said, no other church on the face of the earth held equal authority and he became Mormonism's first modern-day prophet.
Within the composite belief system that Smith subsequently devised, humanity is described as essentially "gods in embryo." Smith believed that God himself had once been a human being and had become a God through a process. And that his followers could become gods too, if they would follow his new religion.
The supposed restoration of the lost priesthood and truth took place when Smith's divine revelation occurred. At that time Smith was a 14-year-old boy. Never-the-less he claimed that divine beings had told him not to join any existing church or religion, but instead to begin his own, which would become the one true and anointed church authorized by God.
A similar story is told by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder and leader of the Unification Church. Cult leaders such as David Koresh, Shoko Asahara of Japan and Jim Jones of the Peoples Temple all seemed to feel that God had given them an exclusive mission and somehow exalted their group above all others.
In 1823, Smith said a heavenly being or angel named "Moroni," who he claimed was the son of Mormon, a man that died about 400 A.D., appeared to Smith. Maroni, told Smith that there hidden written records on "golden plates" of a lost people who once had a great civilization in America. These plates were conveniently burried just outside the town where Smith lived. But they were written in an unknown language Smith called "Reformed Egyptian." Maroni instructed Smith to use two special peep stones to look through, which would enable his to translate the plates. Smith said he uncovered the golden plates, translated them with these stones and the end result is now known as the "Book of Mormon." And Maroni is now commemorated as the golden figure perched atop Mormon Temples.
Smith was largely regarded at the time as a con man and fraud. His golden plates disappeared, transported to heaven, or so he said. The civilizations recorded within the Book of Mormon have never been substantiated by any historical evidence through either archaeology or corroborated by any credible scholar or historian. Instead, as originally perceived by Smith's contemporaries, they appear to be little more than a collection of fictional stories put together by Smith, based largely upon other writings and his own creative imagination.
Smith eventually became a virtual dictator of his own city called Nauvoo in Illinois, which was populated by his followers. He also led a large private army as its General. His rule was often tyrannical and he became a feared figure within Illinois. In 1844 after Smith destroyed a Nauvoo newspaper that dared to openly criticize him he was jailed in Carthage. An angry mob broke into the jail and Smith was killed. At the time of his death, his ardent apostles were promoting him as a candidate for president of the United States.
The story of Smith's city and his "persecution" is somewhat like the history of Indian guru Bhagwan Rajneesh, who created a city of believers within Oregon during the 1980s. It is also reminiscent of Jim Jones who founded Jonestown. But unlike these small groups that have been called "cults," Smith's small sect evolved into a major American religion. That religion is known today as "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints," (LDS). LDS claims more than 4 million members worldwide, with 2.5 million Mormons on the church roles in North America alone.
Notes: This article was largely based upon "Prophet, seer said to have met with divine personages" National Post Canada, July 22, 2002