Often, articles by people who haven’t a clue about what Mormons really believe claim Mormons worship Joseph Smith—or Brigham Young, or Mormon, or whoever else captures their imagination that week. The truth is that Mormons do not. They worship God and Jesus Christ only.
Mormon is a nickname people sometimes use to describe the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Mormons themselves prefer the term LDS to describe the people in shortcut form.) The real name of the church should be a clue as to who they worship. In the Book of Mormon, Jesus helped a group of ancient people if organize their church on the American continent. They asked what they should name their church. Jesus said that whoever you name the church after is the person whose church it is. If you name your church after Moses, then it’s Moses’ church,f or instance. If they wanted this to be Jesus’ Church, they needed to name it after Him. This is why Mormons use the name of Jesus Christ in their title and ask journalists to use the real name once in each article.
How, then, do Mormons view Joseph Smith? Joseph Smith was a prophet. The Bible is full of prophets and Christians of all denominations read and believe the Bible. Do they worship Moses or Noah or John the Baptist? Of course not. They honor and respect these great prophets for the service and sacrifices made in their ministry, but they don’t worship them.
Mormons believe in the Bible. They read it and they believe it. They honor the prophets God called. They do not worship those prophets and they do not worship modern day prophets. Mormon prophets must be viewed in the same light as the ancient prophets—people who are called and authorized to speak for God.
When a Mormon prophet enters the room, everyone stands. No one leaves until he does (which may be a security method). However, Mormons don’t pray to their prophets, bow to them, kiss their rings, kneel before them or do anything else that might accompany worship. If you met a Mormon prophet, you would shake his hand, and this is what a Mormon would do as well.
Henry B. Eyring, who is the First Counselor to the prophet today and an apostle, said:
“The Prophet Joseph Smith is an example and a teacher of enduring well in faith. I do not worship him, but I thank and love him as the Lord’s prophet of the Restoration. He has helped me pray with the intent to obey. I am better able to feast in the word and the love of God. Because of him I feel the Holy Ghost more often in the moments when I try to build the faith of a person in the Lord’s kingdom. And because of what I know of the Prophet Joseph and the scriptures which were revealed through him, I more often feel the love of God for His children and of His for me when I reach down to lift someone up” (“An Enduring Testimony of the Mission of the Prophet Joseph,” Ensign, Nov. 2003, 92).
With the exception of being the prophet of the restoration, this statement could be said of any prophet in the Bible. Each prophet played an important role in God’s kingdom and Joseph’s happened to involve the restoration.
Now, compare that statement to what another modern Mormon apostle said about Jesus Christ:
Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten and Beloved Son of God. He is our Creator. He is the Light of the World. He is our Savior from sin and death. This is the most important knowledge on earth, and you can know this for yourself, as I know it for myself. The Holy Ghost, who testifies of the Father and the Son and leads us into truth, has revealed these truths to me, and He will reveal them to you. The way is desire and obedience. As to desire, Jesus taught, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). As to obedience, He taught, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). I testify of the truth of these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. (See Teachings of Jesus by Dallin H. Oaks, Nov. 2011.)
You can see the statements are very, very different. Mormons worship Jesus Christ; they only honor Joseph Smith