Dialogue on Mormon founder marks bicentennial of birth

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Joseph Smith's name isn't in the Bible, but he is considered by 12 million people to be one of Christianity's foremost prophets, founding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and creating the Mormon faith --- and sparking controversy within the Christian community that still simmers today.

This year marks Smith's 200th birthday, and to celebrate the occasion, Mormons throughout the nation are holding open dialogues about their enigmatic leader.

Says Chris White, an assistant professor at Georgia State University:

"Foreign observers, like [Leo] Tolstoy, have called Latter-day Saints a 'quintessentially American religion.' Their story is really an American story --- living on the American frontier in the 19th century; they embraced American values of industry and commerce and capitalism and attracted white Americans.

"But they have always run against the grain of Protestants --- their doctrinal distinctiveness, their plural marriage and their own impulse to be a separate people and marry among themselves. And then they had these new angels that scandalized Americans. And so they have also been persecuted from upstate New York to Missouri to Salt Lake, where no one else wanted to go."

(Salt Lake City remains the church headquarters today.)

There are many people today who still don't understand that Mormons are Christian, say the faith's followers. That frustrates David Winters of Norcross who grew up in the church.

"We believe the Bible is the word of God. And yes, we also believe in additional scripture, the primary example of the Book of Mormon, but the subtitle of that book is 'Another Testament of Jesus Christ.' "

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