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The Blue Oyster Cult, widely known as the BOC or the band with the cowbell, is the fourth largest cult in New York City. Worldwide there are thousands to hundreds of thousands of members. Like any other religion, the actual number of members is open to interpretation, depending on how tight assed you are.
The followers of The BOC are usually referred to as Metalheads, though this is mainly a general term for anyone who follows this sort of life style and many Metalheads actually do not consider themselves part of the BOC. Typically all Metalheads follow the same traditions, though it is the actual beliefs that seem to differ. The cult believes in an alternate history of the United States of America and many of the teachings are based upon this secondary history. The highest-ranking leader is the Lead Singer, who is considered to be a prophet and a general badass.
Metalheads believe that the original writing Imaginos by the prophet Sandy Pearlman was divinely inspired by the "Les Invisibles", a group of seven spiritual beings found in the Americas somewhere. There are places that the "Les Invisibles" are known not to be, such as Canada or Klamath Falls. The Imaginos scripture revolves around a child that the BOC essentially worships. Many of the other beliefs of the BOC revolve around astronomy and stars and other galatic things, though those are typically just background noise found in conjuction with Imaginos.
Though it is not commonly known when the original Blue Oyster Cult was founded, it is known that the second movement of the BOC took place 1967. This secondary founding took place in the home of the prophet Sandy Pearlman in the New York area.
The number of founding members was relatively small and can actually be counted on one and a half hands, depending on what your hands look like:
- Sandy Pearlman (Founder)
- Eric Bloom (Lead Singer)
- Buck Dharma (what a kickass name)
- Allen Lanier (probably a stoner)
- Joe Bouchard (Albert's brother)
- Albert Bouchard (Joe's brother)
The BOC did not necessarily have a large following immediately. It was not until 1972 that the movement began. After many mishaps, likely deaths, and other forms of temporary obstacles, the BOC was finally ready to start down the road to mass revival.
The members of the group travelled around America delivering their word for the end of the world and whatnot and was met with both criticism and general acceptance. The BOC found a minor following in the elder generations, though it was the young whippersnappers that really latched onto what the BOC were preaching about.
By 1975, the BOC had acquired a mainstream following not only throughout the United States, but also throughout the world. The time period from 1975 to 1981 is commonly referred to as the Great Revival, when the members of the BOC travelled from major city to major city acquiring other converts.
It was during the latter half of this period that Sandy Pearlman decided to publish the scripture Imaginos that he had written in 1967. Unfortunately for the BOC, it was all downhill from here on out. Albert Bouchard (Joe's brother) had personal differences with the teachings in Imaginos and unconverted from the Blue Oyster Cult for a short period of time before becoming lost in their figurative religious cultic eyes again later in 1985, though that still wouldn't last long.
The Blue Oyster Cult continued to regain its prior prominance in the religious world, though they were ultimately unsuccessful. While the BOC remains, its following is quite diminished in comparison to what it once was. Much like any other religion that falls out of favor with the general public, the remaining followers are quite spirited, a bit hateful, and generally crazy.
Beliefs and practices
The beliefs of the Blue Oyster Cult revolve primarily around the writings of Sandy Pearlman and his divinely inspired Imaginos.
The Imaginos Story
At the core of the story is a secret history which Pearlman described thus: "an interpretation of history - an explanation for the onset of World War I, or a revelation of the occult origins of it", in a September 1988 interview with Kerrang! magazine. Central to this history are "Les Invisibles", a group of seven beings worshipped by the natives of Mexico and Haiti prior to the arrival of Spanish colonists in the 1500s. The nature of Les Invisibles is left unclear, though it is hinted that they may be extraterrestrials, or beings akin to the Great Old Ones in the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Some fans have identified them with the Loa of the Voodoo religion. The star Sirius is of particular astrological significance to Les Invisibles, and it is during the so-called Dog Days of August, when Sirius is in conjunction with The Sun, that their influence over mankind is at its apex. By subtly influencing the minds of men, the beings are said to be "playing with our history as if it's a game", affecting events in world history over the course of centuries. For the three centuries after European discovery of the New World, this game plays out as the desire for gold is used to transform Spain into the dominant power in Europe, only to be usurped by England and, later, the United States.
The principal story begins in August of 1804, with the birth of a "modified child" called Imaginos, in the state of New Hampshire. Because of the astrological significance of the place and time of his birth, Imaginos comes to be of particular interest to Les Invisibles, who begin investing him with superhuman abilities while he is young. Unaware of his true destiny or nature, the young Imaginos comes to discover that he is able to change his appearance at will and to see the future to an extent. As the child becomes an adult he finds himself affected by wanderlust and, billing himself as an adventurer, sets out to explore Texas and the western frontier, finally arriving in New Orleans in 1829.
It is there that he has a vision imploring him to travel to Mexico, in search of an artifact "lost, last and luminous, scored to sky yet never found". Imaginos joins the crew of a ship travelling to the Yucatan Peninsula, but while passing through the Gulf of Mexico, the ship encounters a freak storm of which his visions failed to warn him. The ship sinks with most of its crew and Imaginos, half dead, washes ashore and is left for dead by the other survivors, who have come to regard him with suspicion.
As he lays dying "on a shore where oyster beds seem plush as down", Imaginos is addressed by a symphony of voices who identify themselves as Les Invisibles. Imaginos' true nature is revealed to him, and he is informed that the circumstances of his entire life have been manipulated to bring him to that specific moment in time. Having explained themselves to him, they offer him a choice - die as a human, or live as their servant. Imaginos accepts their offer, and is resurrected from the dead by the "Blue Öyster Cult", the human servants of Les Invisibles. He is inducted into the cult and given a new name - Desdenova, "Eternal Light".
From this point on, Imaginos becomes an instrument of Les Invisibles' manipulation of human history. For the next 63 years, he inveigles himself into the world of European politics, using his shapeshifting ability to take the place of high-ranking officials and use their offices to bring about Les Invisibles' will. By 1892, Imaginos is living in a mansion in Cornwall and has a nine-year-old granddaughter, though it is not clear whether she is his biological grandchild or merely the grandchild of the mansion's original inhabitant. Having by this time spent several decades studying mysticism and astrology, Imaginos discovers that England's rise as a superpower in the 16th century coincided with John Dee's acquisition of a magic obsidian mirror, said to have been "taken from the jungle by crime". This revelation in mind, Imaginos determines that the time has come to attempt again his aborted mission to Mexico.
On August 1st, 1892, he sets sail aboard a "charmed ship" which, despite "storms on land and storms at sea", delivers him faithfully to Mexico. After spending several months exploring the jungles of Yucatan he finds an undiscovered Mayan pyramid. Following a long passage into the interior of the pyramid he discovers a chamber carved from solid jade, and within the chamber of jade he discovers the "Magna of Illusion", a twin of Dee's magic mirror. Stealing away with the artifact, he returns to Cornwall a year to the day of his departure, which happens to coincide with the tenth birthday of his granddaughter. Imaginos gives it to the girl as a birthday present, and for the following 21 years it sits collecting dust in her attic, silently poisoning the minds of Europe's leaders. Finally, in 1914, "World War I breaks out. A disease with a long incubation."
It should be noted that the chronology of the storyline is indefinite. Controversy about the correct order of the songs, as well as the free-form style of the narrative leave the correct sequence in doubt. The fact that some believe Imaginos can travel through time further complicates matters.
Three distinct beings, as well as three distinct persons
The church's view of the Godhead breaks with post New Testament Christian history and believes it returns to the teachings taught by Jesus. It does not accept the Nicene Creed's definition of Trinity, that the three are "consubstantial" nor the Athanasian Creed's [] statement that they are "incomprehensible". For Jesus said while praying to the Father,"And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." They believe: "The Father has a body of flesh and bone as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us".
God the Father
God the Father is understood to be the literal Father of the spirits of all mankind. He is also understood to be the Father of Jesus' spirit body and his physical body. On the morning that Jesus was resurrected, Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."
His Son, Jesus Christ
In the Book of Mormon, about the year 124 B.C. an angel speaks to the Nephite king Benjamin, "And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary." Regarded as the Creator of the earth, sun, moon, and stars etc. He is at times referred to as the Father of heaven and earth. This is one sense in which He shares the title, Father with His Father. The church also teaches that those who accept Christ and are baptized are symbolically born again and become the children of Christ. The church teaches that Jesus Christ is central to His Father's plan of happiness and emphasizes that Christ's divinity enabled Him to take upon Himself the penalty for sin and to endure the consequential suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross that paid for the sins of humanity. This Atonement however is also believed to cover not only sin, but pain, suffering, heart ache, or hardship we experience in our life on earth. Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus' status as the son of a mortal woman gave him the ability to suffer temptations and experience physical death; while his status as the Son of God gave him the power to lay down and take up his life again at will. The church also believes in the physical resurrection of Jesus' body: that his physical body and spirit body were reunited, never again to be separated. Because of its emphasis on Jesus' resurrection and his status as the living head of the church, the church does not use the symbol of the Christian cross except on the uniforms of military chaplains. Instead, the church tends to focus on the belief that Jesus overcame suffering and death and that he lives today.
The church follows what it understands to be the teachings of Jesus, both in the Bible and in other scriptures, such as the Book of Mormon. The church also teaches that Jesus is the LORD Jehovah of the Old Testament, and the Holy One of Israel. Because He has the "Divine Investiture of Authority" from the Father, the church teaches that Jesus Christ often speaks in the scriptures as though he were God the Father, because in so doing He is representing the Father.
The Holy Ghost
He is regarded as "a being endowed with the attributes and powers of Deity and not a mere force or essence."He testifies of the Father and the Son. "By the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." The Holy Ghost can sanctify people enabling them "to put off the natural man and [become]a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord" Jesus promised to send another Comforter: "If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever."
The church encourages all people to pray often "for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray" In LDS scripture Jesus tells his disciples, "Ye shall call upon the Father in my name."Prayer is viewed a means of communication between man and God. It is LDS belief that God hears the sincere prayers of all people because they are His children, He is no respecter of persons, and because he knows all things.
God is to be approached in reverence. Except for certain ordinances the specific words of a prayer do not have a prescribed form. However, the church regards the Lord's prayer to the Father as a pattern to be followed in seeking His will and blessing and has given the following guidelines:
1. Our Heavenly Father
2. We thank Thee for .......
3. We ask Thee .....
4. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Generally, prayer is addressed to God the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, and thanks or petitions are expressed as prompted by the Holy Ghost.
One of the duties of any member of the church is "to exhort members to pray vocally and in secret meaning there own homes." LDS Children are taught remove distractions while praying by doing such things as closing their eyes, and folding their arms. Reverence may also be express by bowing the head, or kneeling. But prayer may be made while standing or sitting. According to LDS theology, the First Vision came in answer to a prayer of faith.
Apostasy, restoration, and priesthood
In common with other Restorationist churches, the church believes in a Great Apostasy. It teaches that after the death of Jesus and the Twelve Apostles, the priesthood authority was lost and some important doctrinal teachings, including the text of the Bible, were changed from their original form, thus necessitating a Restoration prior to the Second Coming. That restoration, according to church doctrine, began during the life of Joseph Smith, Jr.
According to church theology, the restoration began through a series of visions and revelations, including Smith's First Vision in 1820, visits by various angelic messengers including Moroni from whom he received "the everlasting gospel", John the Baptist, Moses, Elijah, and the apostles Peter, James and John. Both Smith and Oliver Cowdery testified that these last messengers came to them while they were together and conferred upon them the priesthood authority with its various "keys", so that mankind again possessed the "fullness of the Gospel" with authority to administer in the odinances thereof. The restoration also included the re-establishment of the Church of Christ on 6 April 1830. The LDS Church teaches that it is the successor of this Church of Christ and that the current President of the Church is Smith's modern successor.
The priesthood is offered to all male members ages 12 and older who follow the church's code of morality. Men receive the priesthood by ordination, which consists of other priesthood holders laying their hands on their head. Ordination to the priesthood is a prerequisite to preside in the church.
The priesthood has two main levels and then levels within those. The first type of priesthood is given to ages 12-17 called the Aaronic Priesthood named after Aaron in the Bible. The first level in this priesthood is given to boys ages 12 and 13. The level is called Deacon. There primary duty is to pass the sacrament to members on sundays and collect fast offerings.
Teacher is the second level in this priesthood and is given to males ages 14 and 15 and there primary duty is to prepare the sacrament for the Deacons and to help members in need if requested.
Priest is the highest level in the Aaronic Priesthood given the males ages 16 and 17. There primary duty is to bless the sacrament given to members. Priests also have the authority to baptize but not confirm people members of the church.
The second main level of the priesthood is the Melchizedek Priesthood. All Melchizedek Priesthood holders are 18 or older but each level does not have a set age for progression. Instead it is decided by your worthiness and on your calling in the church. With-in this priesthood are two levels.
The first is Elder - Confer the gift of the Holy Ghost; give blessings by the laying on of hands; ordain other Elders; all rights of the Aaronic priesthood
Second Level is High Priest - Responsible for the spiritual welfare of the Latter-day Saints; may serve in a bishopric, stake presidency, high council, or temple presidency and may serve as a mission president; may ordain other High Priests and Elders can perform duties of both and Elder and all Aaronic priesthood duties. All members the are high priests hold a high position in the church.
After the time of Joseph Smith, black men of sub-Saharan African descent were barred from being ordained to the priesthood and entering the religion's temples; in 1978, church president Spencer W. Kimball announced a revelation declaring that all worthy men could be ordained to the priesthood. (See Blacks and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.) Women are not ordained to priesthood offices, although they are given certain leadership roles over children and other women, and perform some temple ordinances. (see Temple (Latter Day Saints), Endowment (Latter Day Saints) and Women and Mormonism.)
The priesthood is structured in a hierarchical manner, emphasizing obedience. Members are encouraged to avoid public criticism of priesthood leaders; repeated public criticism by an individual may eventually result in excommunication. (See Mormonism and authority.) Although the church had a paid local clergy in the 1800s, local and regional priesthood leaders currently serve as volunteers. Non-clerical church employees, general authorities (who serve life or five-year terms), and mission presidents are paid a stipend from church funds and provided other benefits. A general missionary fund covers the basic living expenses of single Mormon missionaries. Missionaries and their families are asked to contribute to this fund, and in the United States the missionary's congregation of origin is ultimately responsible to satisfy the monthly obligation to the general fund. Members volunteer general custodial work for local church facilities.
Ordinances, covenants and temples
Latter-day Saint sacraments are called ordinances, and there are two types: saving ordinances and non-saving ordinances. All ordinances, whether saving or nonsaving, must be performed by a man ordained to the appropriate priesthood office, with the exception of certain parts of the Endowment and the initiatory or washings and anointings, in which women can perform the ordinance without being ordained to an office.
Saving ordinances are those that grant access to certain blessings that flow from the Atonement, and include baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost (confirmation), with the "sacrament" of the Lord's supper, taken each Sunday, to keep in remembrance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and to renew the covenant made at baptism,ordination to an office of the priesthood (for males), the initiatory or washings and anointings, the Endowment, celestial marriage, and family sealings. Each saving ordinance is associated with one or more covenant that the person receiving the ordinance makes with God.
The church teaches that to obtain the highest degree of salvation (referred to as "exaltation" in the celestial kingdom), all people who have lived to the age of eight must participate in each of the saving ordinances. However, the church teaches that they may be performed for a person either during their lifetime or by proxy after the person has died. Therefore, church members participate in the saving ordinances on behalf of dead relatives and others whose names have been extracted from historical records. The performance of these proxy ordinances are one of the functions of the church's temples.
All the saving ordinances are currently open to all worthy members of the appropriate age. Prior to 1978, black members were barred from all saving ordinances other than baptism and confirmation, but this policy was changed in 1978. Celestial marriage is open to one man and one woman at a time, but a widower may enter a second celestial marriage.
Apart from sealings to parents, the church does not perform saving ordinances for those younger than age eight or for those who have died before the age of eight (when children reach the "age of accountability"), because young children are deemed "alive in Christ" and not responsible for sin. Likewise, the church teaches that the saving ordinances are not required for persons age eight or older who are "mentally incapable of knowing right and wrong".
Non-saving ordinances include the dedication of graves, the dedication of buildings, the prayer circle, the Hosanna shout, shaking the dust from the feet, and various kinds of blessings, including the patriarchal blessing.
Plan of salvation
The plan of salvation, or "The Great Plan of Happiness," as taught by the church, describes humanity's place in the universe and the purpose of life. The church teaches that there was a pre-mortal existence, a place which existed prior to mortality in which all people and all life were created in spirit form. Central to this is the notion that humans existed as spirits before birth, were raised by Heavenly parents and had essential human characteristics such as gender. This general idea is also stated as "We lived in the presence of God."
During the pre-earth life, Heavenly Father presented a plan to have a Savior make it possible for mankind to be saved. Jesus Christ stepped forward as the chosen Savior. However, Lucifer, one of the spirits, proposed a rival plan whereby every soul would be saved, he would receive God's power, and human agency would be eliminated. When God rejected that plan, the War in Heaven ensued, resulting in Lucifer and one third part of the spirits being cast out and denied ever receiving physical bodies. Lucifer became the devil.
The earth, according to church teachings in the temples, was created by Jehovah, which the church identifies as the pre-mortal Jesus, and Michael the archangel, who is identified as the pre-mortal Adam. The earth was "organized" from pre-existing matter, as were other planets with their inhabitants. Michael's spirit was implanted in a body created by God the Father and Jehovah, and became Adam.
The church teaches that at birth, a pre-existing spirit enters a mortal body. Upon death, the spirit goes to a "spirit world" to await the resurrection of the dead. There, a preliminary judgment, based solely on whether a person has had a baptism by the authority of the priesthood and received their confirmation either in this life or after death by proxy places the spirit in either a state of paradise(has completed all the saving ordinances) or spirit prison (those who have not had the saving ordinances). Those in "prison" will be visited by spirits from paradise and given the chance to learn of the teachings of Jesus Christ and to accept the accompanying saving ordinances. The church teaches that all persons, wicked or righteous, will be resurrected and receive an immortal, physical body. The nature of that body, however, will depend on the result of the Last Judgment, at which Jesus will assign each soul to one of three degrees of glory (heavenly kingdoms): the celestial kingdom in the presence of the Father and the Son for those who accept Jesus Christ and receive all LDS saving ordinances, either as a mortal or by proxy; the terrestrial kingdom, a place of glory in the presence of Christ for righteous persons who refuse to receive the saving ordinances and for those who do not keep the covenants they commit to; and the telestial kingdom for the wicked. A further destination, called outer darkness, is reserved for Satan, his devils, and those mortals who commit the unpardonable sin and thereby become the sons of perdition. Those who are ultimately destined for the telestial kingdom will be those who suffer for their sins in hell; however, these persons remain in hell only the 1000 years during the millennial reign of Christ, after which they will exit hell and be resurrected with an immortal body into a state of peace.
Those in the Celestial Kingdom will be allowed to continue to progress and become joint heirs with Jesus Christ; but only individuals that are in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom will eventually be enabled in eternity to become gods and goddesses and participate in the eternal creative process of having spirit children.
View of history and eschatology
The church's view of history is informed by the faith's scriptures. LDS history begins with the creation according to Genesis, but has never endorsed any particular form of creationism. Though it does not officially oppose any particular findings of natural history, the church regards Adam as the first "primal parent of the [human] race".
According to teachings in the Book of Mormon, the Americas are a special location reserved by God for those who love freedom and freedom of religion. According to Joseph Smith, what is now Jackson County, Missouri was the location of the Garden of Eden and will be the location of the future New Jerusalem, and God has led numerous groups to the western hemisphere in search of freedom, including several groups of ancestors to the Native Americans whose stories are told in the Book of Mormon.
The church also teaches an expansive view of God's covenant with Abraham, which Joseph Smith taught extends not just to Jews, but to Latter Day Saints, who in most cases are declared by their patriarchal blessings to be literal descendants of the tribe of Ephraim, or adopted into this tribe. Native Americans are typically declared to be descended from the Tribe of Manasseh based on the teachings of the Book of Mormon that members of this tribe, the family of Lehi, crossed the ocean on boats in about 600 B.C. and became their principal ancestors.
The church teaches that in the future the Second Coming of Jesus will occur, followed by a thousand years of peace, after which will occur the Last Judgment. Distinctive within Latter-day millennialism, however, is the idea that Jesus will reign "personally upon the earth" from a location that is presently within the United States and direct the government or governments that will exist. Jackson County, Missouri is expected to have an important LDS temple during the Millennium and Jerusalem is expected to be an important center of government in the world. As the earth transitions into the Millennial period, only those good and honorable people who stand to inherit the celestial kingdom or the terrestrial kingdom will continue on the earth; the Latter-day Saints will continue to proselytize among the living and perform ordinances for the dead until a final great confrontation of good versus evil prior to the Last Judgment.
Theology of family and gender
The LDS Church has been characterized as a family-centered religion. The church teaches that every being that lived upon the earth initially had a spirit body and that all were born to Heavenly Parents in a pre-mortal existence. The church teaches that on earth, families may be "sealed"—meaning that they are eternally bound as husband–wife, parents–child—and that these bonds will continue after death. Sealings can also include deceased ancestors, providing much of the church's rationale for its extensive family history activities.
The church also teaches that each person's gender is eternal and that gender roles are authorized by God: in general, men are to preside over and provide for their families and women are to nurture children. The church characterizes the man-woman relationship as "equal but different". Nevertheless, LDS women in the United States work outside the home in about the same percentage as other American women. The church teaches that gender is inherently linked to sex, but the church has no official policy on the status of intersex persons. Transgender persons are accepted in the church and may be baptized, but may not receive the priesthood or enter the temple if they are considering or have undergone elective sex reassignment surgery.
The status of women in church leadership has remained largely unchanged since the early 1900s. Although they are not ordained to the priesthood, preaching and instruction by women is an integral part of weekly Latter-day Saint worship. Certain leadership positions are filled only by women, and in some of the church's auxiliary organizations women may preside over men, such as in the Primary, in welfare programs, on activities committees, and at a Family History Library. Since the 1840s, women have officiated in certain ordinances that take place inside temples.
The Law of Chastity
The church teaches what it calls the law of chastity, a moral code that its members must follow to be in good standing with the church. At its core, the law of chastity prohibits pre-marital sex and adultery, which includes gay and lesbian sex. The law also prohibits other sexual behavior, such as bestiality and masturbation, as well as mental behavior such as lust, sexual fantasy, and viewing of pornography.
The church encourages members to enter a celestial marriage, the only form of marriage recognized by the church as a sacrament and "the only due and proper way of joining husband and wife". For purposes of the law of chastity, however, the church presently recognizes only civil unions that are considered "legal and lawful" by the government where it takes place, with certain exceptions including same-sex marriage, polygamous marriage, common law marriage, and other types of non-ceremonial marriages in non-common law countries.
Where celestial marriage is not recognized by the government, it must be preceded by a civil marriage. The church's teachings are ambiguous about the scope of allowable sexual behavior between legally married couples. The law of chastity has also been interpreted to include standards of modesty in dress and action.
LGBT members of the church are expected to keep the law of chastity. If they do, they can “go forward as do all other members of the church.” If they desire to enter into a heterosexual marriage, they should first learn to deal with their homosexual feelings; otherwise, they must remain celibate. Gay or lesbian sex, in any form, whether the participants are married or not, may be grounds for excommunication.
The church has supported a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and polygamous marriage in the United States and has stated that it "favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship." The church's position is that government recognition of such rights will "undermine the divinely created institution of the family".
Organized worship and participation
The church provides several kinds of services and gatherings for participation by members and non-members, including weekly services on Sunday, periodic conferences such as the semi-annual general conference, and ritual services at the church's temples (for members only). All persons, regardless of their beliefs or standing in or out of the church, are welcome to attend normal church services and conferences. Women usually attend worship services wearing skirts or dresses, while men typically wear suits or dress shirts (Normally white) and ties. Children are also typically in their "Sunday best."
The church holds its normal worship services on Sunday during a three-hour block composed of three meetings: sacrament meeting, which features the church's weekly sacrament (Eucharist) ritual and sermons by various selected members; Sunday School, featuring a lesson on various scriptural topics; and finally, each participant is assigned a meeting based on their age and sex, which could include a meeting of priesthood holders for males aged 12 and up separated into age-specific quorums, Relief Society for adult women, and a meeting of the Young Women Organization for adolescent females. During the second and third hours, children participate in activities of the Primary. Periodically, members participate in local, regional, and general church-wide conferences in lieu of Sunday services. The general conference is broadcast semi-annually (April and October) from Salt Lake City, Utah. The 2008 general conference was broadcast live through the Internet April 5 and 6 on www.lds.org and was of particular significance in that a new president of the church was presented for a sustaining vote, in what is called a Solemn assembly.
The church also provides ritual services at its temples, which are open only to members of the appropriate age who meet standards of orthodoxy and worthiness. Members are encouraged to attend the temples regularly, where they usually participate in the Endowment, sealing, washing and anointing, and other ordinances, most often by proxy for the dead.
Duties and expectations of church members
For members of the church, the greatest commandment is to love God with all their heart and the second is to love others as they love themselves. All other commandments are considered appendages to these great commandments.(Template:Lds) In addition, they have a high degree of participation in religious activities outside of worship services. Members are expected or encouraged to pray frequently (several times a day), perform good works, and read scriptures daily.
Members are expected to donate their time, money, and talents to the church, and those who have participated in the Endowment ceremony make an oath to donate all that they have, if required of them, to the Lord. To be in good standing and to enter the church's temples, church members are asked to tithe their income to the church, which is usually interpreted as 10% of income. In addition, members are asked to donate monthly charitable "fast offerings" (at least the equivalent cost of two meals), which are used to help the needy, regardless of whether or not they are church members, and are encouraged to make other humanitarian donations when necessary.
In addition to attending the weekly three-hour church services, members are usually given "callings" or assignments in the church, and often attend various other meetings or activities throughout the week relating to that calling. Members in good standing are assigned to visit the homes of other members monthly as "home teachers" (men) or "visiting teachers" (women). Members are also expected to engage in missionary work, family history research, to conduct a Family Home Evening weekly with their family, and to attend the temple regularly. Church members are encouraged to live self-sufficiently and avoid unnecessary debt. All male members are expected to serve a two-year mission at the age of 19, though there are high standards of worthiness and physical and mental health that prohibit many men from serving. Women may optionally serve a mission if they are over the age of 21 and not married, as may older married couples.
Good standing in the church requires that members follow the "Word of Wisdom" (a health code given by Joseph Smith which the church interprets as requiring abstinence from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, coffee, black tea, and recreational drugs). Members must also obey the law of chastity (the church's code for modesty and allowable forms of sexuality), and are strongly counseled against choosing an elective abortion, except in the cases of a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, a pregnancy that seriously jeopardizes the life or health of the mother, or a pregnancy where a physician determines that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth. In general, members must obey the law of the country in which they live and visit, although there have been notable exceptions. The church discourages gambling in all forms, including lotteries.
Church members who commit what are considered serious violations of the standards of the church (defined as, without limitation, "attempted murder, rape, sexual abuse, spouse abuse, intentional serious physical injury of others, adultery, fornication, homosexual relations, deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, robbery, burglary, theft, embezzlement, sale of illegal drugs, fraud, perjury, and false swearing") may be subject to church disciplinary action, including disfellowshipment or even excommunication. Such individuals are encouraged to continue attending church services, but are not permitted to hold church responsibilities or offer public prayer at any church meeting (although personal prayer is encouraged); excommunicated members are also prohibited from paying tithing or fast offerings. Other members are frequently unaware of the status of such individuals. Everyone is welcome to attend the public meetings of the church, whether or not they adhere to the church's lifestyle code.
In contrast to overt actions which are prohibited, church members are generally permitted to think or believe freely on any issue, but are discouraged from publicly criticizing local leaders or general authorities; repeated public criticism of the church or its leaders may subject a person to church discipline for apostasy. The church maintains a Strengthening Church Members Committee which monitors members' publications and refers critical material to local authorities for possible disciplinary action.
Sacred texts and other publications
The church's canon of sacred texts consists of the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. These are more commonly referred to as the church's Standard Works. Though not canonical, many members of the church also accept the teachings and pronouncements of the church's general authorities—and in particular those of the President of the Church—as doctrine, and complimenting the Standard Works.
The church accepts the Holy Bible as the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. Joseph Smith wrote, "I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writters" The LDS church uses the King James Version (KJV) or translation for its English speaking members and other translations to accommodate alternative languages. Joseph Smith did work on his own translation, but it is only used in conjunction with the KJV. An extract of his translation can be found in the Pearl of Great Price, called Joseph Smith-Matthew after the book of Abraham and preceding Joseph Smith-History. For English language speakers, the church encourages the use of the King James Version. The church regards parts of the Apocrypha, the writings of some Protestant Reformers and non-Christian religious leaders, and the non-religious writings of some philosophers to be inspired, though not canonical.
The church's most distinctive scripture, the Book of Mormon, was published by founder Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1830, with subsequent revisions totaling over 3900 since. In 1879, chapters were sub-divided and verse numbers were added for ease of reference. In 1920, pages were divided into two colums.It is believed to be "another testiment of Jesus Christ" and bears that subtitle as of 1982. Smith stated that he translated the Book of Mormon from metal plates that had "the appearance of gold" that he found buried near his home. His history records:
At length the time arrived for obtaining the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate. On the 22nd day of September 1827, having gone as usual at the end of another year to the place where they were deposited, the same heavenly messenger delivered them up to me with this charge: that I should be responsible for them; that if I should let them go carelessly, or through any neglect of mine, I should be cut off; but that if I would use all my endeavors to preserve them, until he, the messenger, should call for them, they should be protected.
Eight men signed a statement saying that Smith "has shown unto us the plates...which have the appearance of gold...We also saw the engravings thereon, all of which have the appearance of ancient work...we have seen and hefted and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates." As of September 2007, the full text of the Book or Mormon had been translated and published in 77 languages, and selections in an additional 28 for a total of 105 languages. The introduction printed with the book says that it is a history of the principal ancestors of the "American Indian" peoples. Much debate has taken place on the subject of whether archaeology supports or denies the Book of Mormon's authenticity. Recently, the LDS church asked Doubleday to change the introduction to now read "are among the ancestors of the American Indians." The correction was made to take into account details of Book of Mormon demographics which are unknown in their specifics although there are many plausible theories being explored. 
The church's Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of modern revelations, declarations, and teachings, primarily written by Joseph Smith. The Pearl of Great Price consists of five separate books, including two portions of Joseph Smith's translation of the Bible. These five books are Selections from the Book of Moses (corresponding to a portion of the Old Testament), the Book of Abraham (Smith's translation of an Egyptian papyrus, which includes an account of the creation), Joseph Smith—Matthew (corresponding to a section of the New Testament), Joseph Smith—History (an excerpt from Smith's 1838 autobiographical writings), and the Articles of Faith (an excerpt of one of Smith's 1842 letters describing church beliefs).
The church also publishes several official periodicals, including the Ensign (for English-speaking adults), the Liahona (non-English languages), the New Era (for youth), and the Friend (for children). Some older, discontinued English-language publications produced or affiliated with the church included Evening and Morning Star (1833–1834), Messenger and Advocate (1834–1837), Elders' Journal (1837), Times and Seasons (1839–1846), Millennial Star (1840–1970), The Seer (1853–1854), Journal of Discourses (1854–1886), The Juvenile Instructor (1866–1930), Woman's Exponent (1872–1914), The Contributor (1879–1896), Young Woman's Journal (1889–1929), Improvement Era (1897–1970), The Children's Friend (1902–1970), Relief Society Magazine (1915–1970), and The Instructor (1930–1970).
Church organization and structure
Name and legal entities
The church teaches that it is a continuation of the Church of Christ established in 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr. This original church underwent several name changes during the 1830s, being called the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church of God, and then in 1834, the name was officially changed to the Church of the Latter Day Saints to differentiate it from the 1st century Christian church. In April 1838, the name again was officially changed by revelation to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints There were several alternate spellings of this name in use during Smith's lifetime, however, including a hyphenated "Latter-Day". After Smith died, Brigham Young and the largest body of Smith's followers incorporated the LDS Church in 1851 by legislation of the State of Deseret, under the name The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which included a hyphenated "Latter-day" and a lower-case "d". In 1887, the LDS Church was legally dissolved in the United States by the Edmunds-Tucker Act because of the church's practice (now abandoned) of polygamy. Thereafter, the church has continued to operate as an "unincorporated religious association", under the name The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which remains its formal name. Accepted informal names include the LDS Church, the Latter-day Saints, and the Mormons. The term Mormon Church is in common use, but the church began discouraging its use in the late 20th century.
The church has organized several tax-exempt corporations to assist with the transfer of money and capital. These include the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, organized in 1916 under the laws of the state of Utah to acquire, hold, and dispose of real property. In 1923, the church incorporated the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah to receive and manage money and church donations. In 1997, the church incorporated Intellectual Reserve, Inc. to hold all the church's copyrights, trademarks, and other intellectual property. The church also holds several non-tax-exempt corporations. See Finances of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The church reports a worldwide membership of 13 million with approximately 6.7 million residing outside the United States. According to these statistics it is the fourth largest religious body in the United States. The church membership report includes all baptized members and also "children of record"—unbaptized children under the age of nine. (Children are not baptized before the age of eight.) Although the church does not release attendance figures to the public, researchers estimate that actual attendance at weekly LDS worship services globally is around 4 million. Members living in the U.S. and Canada constitute 47% of membership, Latin America 36%, and members in the rest of the world 17%. A Survey by the City College of New York in 2001 extrapolated that there were 2,787,000 self-identified LDS adults in the United States in 2001, 1.3% of the US population, making the LDS Church the 10th-largest religious body in their phone survey of over 50,000 households.One source cites it is the third fastest growing religion in the United States with a 1.63 percent annual growth rate.
Church congregations are generally organized geographically. For Sunday services, the church is grouped into either larger (~200 to ~400 people) congregations known as wards, or smaller congregations known as branches. These neighborhood congregations meet in meetinghouses, also referred to as "chapels" or "stake centers" or just ward buildings, located on property most often owned by the church. In some geographic areas, rental property may be used as a meetinghouse. Although the building may sometimes be referred to as a "chapel", the room used as a chapel for religious services is actually only one component of the standard meetinghouse. The church's online "Meetinghouse Locator" can be used to find locations of church buildings and meeting times.
The church has a hierarchical structure, with clearly defined stewardships or realms of responsibility for the various offices. Those who hold such offices do not elect to do so but are "called" by someone of a higher authority in the church; all are laity and are not paid for their service.
The leader of the church is termed President, and church members revere him as a prophet, seer, and revelator. The prophet is believed to hold the same divine calling as biblical prophets, and his responsibility is primarily over the church as a whole. His stewardship extends over the whole human family on earth as the Lord's mouthpiece. He is entitled to guide the church through revelation, acting as God's spokesman. The President of the Church serves as such until death. The current president is Thomas S. Monson.
The First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Presiding Bishopric and the First and Second Quorums of the Seventy are all referred to as general authorities because they direct the work of the entire church throughout the world. The members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are accepted by the church as prophets, seers, and revelators.
Other church authorities are referred to as area authorities and local authorities and include all other Quorums of the Seventy, mission presidents, stake presidents, bishops, and other priesthood quorum presidents.
The church has no salaried ministry; however, general authorities who demonstrate need receive stipends from the church, using income from church-owned investments. All area and local authorities are unpaid and continue in their normal occupations while serving in leadership positions.
The church teaches that revelation from God continues today. Accordingly, revelation to direct the entire church comes to the president; revelation to direct a stake comes to the stake president; for a ward, to the bishop; and so forth. Latter-day Saints also believe that individuals can receive personal revelation and divine guidance in raising their families and managing their personal affairs. Because of their belief in modern revelation, Latter-day Saints give significant weight to the teachings of their church leaders. They revere the words their prophets and general authorities speak when "moved upon by the Holy Ghost" as modern-day scripture, and members are encouraged to ponder and pray for revelation regarding the truthfulness of such statements.
Under the control of the priesthood hierarchy are five auxiliary organizations that fill various roles in the church: Relief Society, Young Men Organization, Young Women Organization, Primary, and Sunday School.
The Relief Society is the church's women's organization. Founded in 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois, and with the motto "Charity Never Faileth", the organization today includes more than 5 million women in over 165 countries. Every Latter-day Saint woman age 18 or older is a member of the Relief Society.
The Young Men and Young Women organizations are composed of adolescents aged 12 to 18. Members often have an additional meeting during the week (referred to as Mutual), which can involve an activity, game, service project, or instruction. The young men and women may meet separately or take part in a combined activities. In the United States and Canada, the young men participate in Scouting, including efforts to earn the Boy Scouts religious award for church members, "On my Honor." Young men throughout the church also work toward earning the church's "Duty to God" award. Young women participate in a comparable program called Personal Progress. Both the young men and the young women are encouraged to live by the standards outlined in the church's "For the Strength of Youth" booklet.
The Primary is an organization for children up to age 12, founded in 1878. It provides classes, music, and activities for children during the second and third hours of the Sunday meeting schedule.
The LDS Sunday School organization provides classes for adolescents and adults during the second hour of the Sunday meeting schedule. It provides a variety of classes, including introductory classes for new members and nonmembers, and gospel doctrine classes for more experienced members. Adolescents are grouped into classes by age.
Young men between the ages of 19 and 25 who meet minimum standards of worthiness and preparation are encouraged to serve a two-year, full-time proselytizing mission. Women who desire to serve a mission must be at least 21 and generally serve 18-month missions. Retired married couples are encouraged to serve missions as well, and their length of service varies from three to 36 months.
There are 347 missions and approximately 53,000 full time proselytizing missionaries serving throughout the world. In addition, about 3,552 missionaries are on special assignment missions, serving as health care specialists, doctors, craftsmen, artisans, construction supervisors, agricultural experts and educators for developing countries and educators, family history researchers and leadership trainers.
Church Educational System
Latter-day Saints believe in the value of education. Joseph Smith taught that "the glory of God is intelligence." Accordingly, the church maintains Brigham Young University, Brigham Young University–Idaho (formerly Ricks College), Brigham Young University Hawaii, and LDS Business College. The church also has religious education programs. Seminary is a program for secondary school students held daily in conjunction with the school year. The Institute of Religion and the LDS Student Association programs serve young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 and those enrolled in post-secondary education institutions with church-owned buildings near university and college campuses designated for the purpose of religious education and cultural socialization.
In addition, the church sponsors a low-interest educational loan program known as the Perpetual Education Fund. This fund is designed to benefit young men and women from less developed parts of the world who have served a mission, returned to their home, and need further education to become productive citizens in their respective countries. As they finish their education and enter the work force, they then are able to pay back the funds provided so that other individuals can attend both vocational technical schools and university.
Members of the church donate fast offerings on Fast Sunday and at other times for the purpose of helping those who are poor or financially struggling. The bishop will meet with a family, or the head(s) of a family to determine whether and how much help they need from the church. The church strongly encourages its members to be self-reliant, so these meetings will usually include a plan on how to get the family back on its own feet. This welfare program is not only available to members of the church, but to any needy members of the community. In fact, the church has a very broad humanitarian effort of the church, which helps not only those who are going through financial struggles, but also victims of natural disasters or other devastating events. All of these services are paid for by charitable donations and are run by volunteer workers.
Priesthood Correlation Program
The church has not released church-wide financial statements since 1959, but in 1997 Time Magazine called it one of the world's wealthiest churches per capita. Its for-profit, non-profit, and educational subsidiary entities are audited by an independent accounting firm: as of 2007, Deloitte & Touche. The church receives most of its money from tithes (ten percent of a member's income) and fast offerings (money given to the church to assist individuals in need). About ten percent of its funding also comes from income on investments and real estate holdings.
The church uses its funds to construct and maintain buildings and other facilities; to provide social welfare and relief; and to support missionary, educational, and other church-sponsored programs. The church has also invested in business and real estate ventures such as Bonneville International, Deseret Book Company, and cattle ranches in Utah, Florida, and Canada.
Due to the differences in lifestyle promoted by church doctrine and history, a distinct culture has grown up around members of the church. It is primarily concentrated in the Rocky Mountains, but as membership of the church spreads around the world, many of its more distinctive practices follow, such as following the Word of Wisdom, a health code prohibiting the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, coffee and tea, and other addictive substances. Because of such prohibitions, the culture in areas of the world with a high concentration of Mormons tends to reflect these restrictions.
Meetings and outreach programs are held regularly and have become part of the Latter-day Saint culture.
Home, family, and personal enrichment
Four times a year the adult women (members of the church's Relief Society) attend a Home, Family, and Personal Enrichment Meeting (formerly known as Homemaking Meeting). The meeting may consist of a service project, or of attending a social event, or of various classes being offered. Additional Enrichment activities are offered for women with similar needs and interests.
Social events and gatherings
In addition to these regularly scheduled meetings, additional meetings are frequently held at the meetinghouse. Auxiliary officers may conduct leadership meetings or host training sessions and classes. The ward or branch community may schedule social activities at the meetinghouse, including dances, dinners, holiday parties and musical presentations. Other popular activities are basketball, family history conferences, youth and singles conferences, dances and various personal improvement classes. Church members may also reserve the building for personal or family use, to accommodate such events as music recitals, family reunions, weddings and receptions, birthdays, or funerals.
The culture has created substantial business opportunities for independent LDS media. The largest of these communities are LDS cinema, LDS fiction, LDS websites, and LDS graphical art like photography and paintings. The church owns a chain of bookstores called Deseret Book which provide an avenue for much of this media to be sold. This culture also resides outside of heavily Mormon populations and many LDS bookstores exist near temples where members commonly visit. Some of the titles that have become popular outside of the LDS community are The Work and the Glory novels and The Other Side of Heaven movie. There are a number of works that have been successful only within the LDS community. These works generally elaborate on LDS culture or historical fiction in some manner.
The church has been subject to criticism since its early years in New York and Pennsylvania. Criticism at the time stemmed from the church's rapid growth and unique doctrines. Criticism continued after the church settled in Missouri, culminating in the 1838 Mormon War. After the church relocated to Illinois, criticism persisted and led to the assassination of Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1844. In the late 1800s, critics condemned the church for its practice of polygamy, and federal legislators passed laws designed to weaken the church. Criticism has historically centered on the legitimacy of Smith's revelations and the historicity of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham. In modern times, critics have made claims against the church alleging intolerant attitudes, racism, sexist policies, and inadequate financial disclosure, as well as allegations of church responsibility for the Mountain Meadows massacre.
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