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Friday, 19 June, 1998, 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK
No stopping Mormons' millennium momentum
The Salt Lake Temple
The Mormons' spiritual heart can be found in the Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah
As the millennium approaches, many people are looking for a purpose in life. Some find it in new age philosophy, some in traditional religions, but an increasing number are finding it in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Mormon growth graphic
The Mormon church is one of the world's fastest-growing religions. It was founded in 19th century America and already has 10m members worldwide, including 181,000 in the UK.

To satisfy its growing numbers, the Mormons open their second temple in Britain this week - complementing around 350 chapels in Britain.

Why are they so popular?

Brian Grant, the church's Director of Public Affairs in Britain, says: "Ours is a family centred church and at a time when people are concerned about the family, we believe our church is the answer.

"We provide the answers to the three questions which everybody asks at some point in their life - Where did I come from?, Why am I here? and Where am I going?"

"Attractive message"

Professor James Beckford of the University of Warwick, who has written several books about religious movements, said: "[The Mormons] have always had doctrines which place great emphasis on the family and this is something they can market very effectively.

"In the current climate that is a very attractive message to some people, especially couples with young children."

Mormon beliefs graphic
Professor Beckford added the Mormons' "wholesome" image is backed up by a powerful and efficient bureaucracy which also makes them an effective missionary organisation.

Even Doug Harris, an evangelical Christian who counsels people who want to leave the Mormons and other sects, can see the appeal of the organisation.

Mr Harris says: "The package they offer is very attractive. A lot of people want to be in control of their own life and destiny and the Mormons say that if you work hard you can become a god in the after-life.

"They are also very rich and have a sort of alternative welfare state. They look after their own very well."

The Preston Temple
The Preston Temple has cost at least 100m
Much of the church's wealth comes from "tithings." Mormons are obliged to hand over a tenth of their income.

Prominent Mormons have been shrewd businessmen - both WordPerfect and Novell were founded by Mormons, as was the Marriot hotel chain.

And so the cost of the new Preston Temple, believed to be around 100m, will not bankrupt the Latter Day Saints.

Some Mormon beliefs are unusual

Those doing research into their family history will quickly find themselves running across Mormons. They believe you can baptise the dead, giving them a chance of salvation, and they therefore have the largest family history organisation in the world.

The Mormons' main library in Salt Lake City, Utah, has 142,000 square feet of records, and there are 3,100 branches around the world. Altogether the Mormons keep records on approximately two billion people.

Polygamy was popular among early Mormons - founder Joseph Smith's successor, the prophet Brigham Young, had 27 wives.

This was one of the reasons they were driven out of the state of Illinois in the 1830s. Those that left were the lucky ones. Joseph Smith, was shot by an anti-Mormon mob.

However, when in 1890 polygamy was outlawed in the United States, the church followed suit and nowadays bigamous Mormons face excommunication, though a few splinter groups still practice it.

But a hundred years later, the continuation of the Mormon faith's phenomenal growth seems assured.

See also:

22 Mar 98 | Europe
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