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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is commonly known as Mormon Church or LDS Church. The length of the official name, moreover different in each language, makes the use of the unofficial but universally known “Mormon” and “Mormonism” rather inevitable. “Mormon” comes from the Church’s belief in The Book of Mormon, accepted as Scripture on par with the Bible.
Founded in 1830 in the State of New York, the Church was part of a wider restorationist movement seeking to revive the original Christian church. Mormons became one of the most persecuted groups in the USA. In 1847 they found refuge in the uncolonized West. Still today, the State of Utah is their central hub. Until 1890, polygamy was allowed. Missionary work expanded the Church internationally, resulting in more members now living outside than in the USA. Total membership worldwide in 2022 is around 17 million of whom some 35 percent are actively practicing.
The Church is hierarchically organized, from the President at the top to the leaders in regional areas, “stakes” (dioceses) and local “wards” (congregations). There is no paid clergy: all offices are fulfilled by volunteers on temporary assignments. Uniform structures and programs are applied all over the world. Temporal affairs such as legal recognition, property, visas for missionaries, translation, etc. are handled by a separate administration with paid employees.
In Europe the Church has been present since the 1850s. At first its message found more response in the traditionally protestant countries. After the Second World War, the Church also expanded in Catholic countries. At the end of 2021, the EU counted close to 280 000 Mormons in 821 congregations, but further progress has been slow. Since the 1990s the Church has welcomed thousands of immigrants, many from sub-Saharan Africa, making wards multicultural and multilingual.
Obtaining legal recognition has often been challenging. The first recognitions in West-European countries date back to the first decades after World War II. In principle the Church is satisfied with a minimal non-profit status as long as it allows to proselytize, own property, hold meetings and serve its members. Overall, the Church does not actively seek a higher level of recognition as it refuses state subsidies and would rather avoid legalistic and bureaucratic hurdles and state intrusion. Contrariwise, local members may want a higher status, on the one hand to shed a cult-image which often lingers among the public, on the other hand to gain benefits, if not yet available, such as tax-deductibility on donations, school hours or credit for religious education and the authority to solemnize marriages. In Italy, for example, local leaders pressed to aim for the higher intesa-status, which was accorded in 2012. Also in Spain the Church applied for a higher level, obtained in 2003. Without some respectable religious recognition, members may suffer. During the cult-scare of the 1980s and ‘90s, the French cult investigation narrowly conceded that Mormonism is not a cult, while in Belgium the Church was and still is listed as a potentially harmful cult. Such diverging perceptions per country may lead to discriminatory treatment. In Greece and in former communist states, the Mormon presence is routinely opposed by the vested church(es), which opposition can carry over in civil polity.
The Church stresses compliance with the law while at the same time strongly advocating religious freedom. Both principles are part of the Articles of Faith. In Europe, “LDS Charities” provides assistance to refugees and to victims of disasters. In Brussels, the Church’s “European Union and International Affairs Office” (Latter-day Saints EU) monitors European legal developments with a focus on family values, humanitarian aid and freedom of religion or belief.
University of Antwerp / Brigham Young University
Note for the reader: data regarding the religious demographics of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affiliates are included under “Independent Christians” (for more information see also Note on the data regarding religious demographics).
The Church’s main website is https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org The world-icon on the right allows to shift
to Europe and European countries. For more data and information on the church in each EU country:
https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org. Click on Europe and next on any country. For
most countries, another link leads to a national LDS webpage.
Information on LDS Charities in Europe: https://www.latterdaysaintcharities.org and click on Map of current
projects. For Latter-day Saints EU, see: https://www.facebook.com
For a general introduction to Mormonism, with a chapter on Mormonism in Europe, see Barlow, P.L. and
Givens, T. L. (eds.) (2015). The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism. New York: Oxford: Oxford University Press
For aspects of Mormon globalization and internationalization, with various chapters on Europe and European
countries, see Shepherd R. G., Shepherd, A.G and Cragun R.T. (eds.) (2020). The Palgrave Handbook of Global
Mormonism. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan
For a history and analysis of the legal challenges related to the Church’s international expansion, see Oman
N.B. (2014), “International Legal Experience and the Mormon Theology of the State, 1945-2012,” Iowa Law
Review 100 (2014): 715–750. Available at http://ssrn.com