What is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a Christian denomination founded by Joseph Smith in the early 1800's. The Church shares some doctrine with mainstream Protestant branches, and also contains its own unique dogma introduced and propagated by Smith and his early followers. The Church is known for for its large, actively involved laity, and for its strict hierarchical clerical order.
The Church has been a controversial Christian sect since its inception. Its history contains a number of violent encounters in communities where Joseph Smith and his followers attempted to settle, such as in Missouri and Utah. The Church has experienced a number of splinters throughout its history, due to unique and seemingly radical theological claims.
Members participate in a number of sacraments to mark life events: birth ceremonies, elaborate weddings, baptisms, and funeral rites. The relationship between clergy and lay members is highly important and integral to religious life. Clergy are devoutly respected and have great authority to establish or change cultural/religious norms within the community. While more accepted among the mainstream now than ever before in its history, the Church continues to struggle with an uneasy relationship with neighboring communities, and with increased political, social, and legal scrutiny. Nonetheless, the Church remains the fourth largest Christian denomination in the U.S., and maintains operation as large, stable, and functioning religious institution.