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No such thing as Mormon fundamentalism

Once again Elder Ballard has issued the challenge to members of the LDS Church to be active participants and not just silent observers of the public debate that is focused on the church.

Previously the spotlight was on the church because of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. That spotlight has now turned to the FLDS church in Texas, which some people confuse with the Salt Lake based LDS Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should not be confused with this FLDS church or any other group that uses Latter-day Saints or Mormon in the name of their organization. It is unfortunate that there has been such confusion between groups that practice or believe in Mormon fundamentalism. Such practices and beliefs are not part of the mainstream LDS Church.

The Church is using the new media

Elder Cook probably said it best in this YouTube video from Public Affairs. He said it is very confusing to the public when some media use “Mormon” to describe the FLDS church. He reiterated that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with over 13 million members worldwide, is not connected in any way to sects that practice polygamy.

Drawing the contrast from those who practice polygamy, Elder Cook said that Church members do not live in isolated compounds, arrange marriages, dress in old-fashioned clothing or wear unusual hairstyles. Rather, they are participating members of the communities in which they live throughout the world, get married at the average age of 23 and are well educated.

The source of the confusion

I suppose it is understandable that those who do not know much about the LDS Church would be confused. After all, don't both groups practice polygamy? No, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not practice polygamy. The leadership of the Church issued an official declaration called the "manifesto" over 100 years ago that discontinued the practice.

I have written previously about the practice of plural marriage in the early days of the Church. What I didn't mention in that essay was that there were a number of plural marriages performed after the manifesto by some apostles who had a hard time accepting the discontinuance of the practice. One of those was John W. Taylor, son of the prophet John Taylor.

Plural marriage after the manifesto

If you want to learn some fun and interesting church history, I suggest you read Family Kingdom by Samuel W. Taylor, son of John W. Taylor. Wow! Now there is an eye-opener. I loved the book and I loved Samuel Taylor's writing style. He reminds me of Mark Twain with his humor and endearing descriptions of Mormon life in Utah from the late 1800's.

Just as the practice of plural marriage among the Latter-day Saints began gradually, the ending of the practice after the Manifesto was also gradual. Some plural marriages were performed after the Manifesto, particularly in Mexico and Canada. In 1904, President Joseph F. Smith called for a vote from the Church membership that all post-Manifesto plural marriages be prohibited worldwide. This is known as the second manifesto.

History of polygamous groups

After the second manifesto, two main groups of polygamists formed. One was the United Apostolic Brethren in and around the Salt Lake City area and the other was the FLDS church in the border towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona. Hildale was originally called Short Creek. in 1953, Utah and Arizona authorities raided Short Creek in a public relations nightmare.

During this raid, mothers were separated from some 263 children and fathers were sent to jail. Given what is happening now in Texas with the FLDS church, doesn't this seem familiar? There are other polygamous groups in Utah and elsewhere who claim to be Mormon Fundamentalists. However, they are not members of the LDS Church and most of them never have been.

Mormon fundamentalism

You will find that the Brethren, or those who lead the LDS Church do not like the term Mormon fundamentalism. In fact, President Hinckley once said, "There is no such thing as a 'Mormon Fundamentalist.' It is a contradiction to use the two words together." There is also no such thing as a "polygamous" Mormon or a "fundamentalist Mormon" in spite of what the media reports.

The church is placing great emphasis on pointing out the distinctions between polygamous sects and the Mormon Church. You can find more than a dozen entries in the LDS Newsroom where the Church has made consistent efforts to clarify erroneous news reports that use the misleading terms, "Mormon fundamentalist," "fundamentalist Mormons" or "Mormon Polygamists."

Summary and conclusion

I have seen this confusion first-hand with acquaintances and associates. When the FLDS raid comes up in conversation they will ask, "Aren't those people part of your church? They're Mormons too, aren't they?" They also suggest that all Mormons still practice polygamy. No, we don't. It's illegal, remember? And no, those people are not a part of the LDS Church.

I'm not so concerned by all this media attention and actually, I think the Church is getting a lot of mileage from this current fascination with the goings-on with the FLDS group in Texas. I hope those who are sincerely wanting to learn more about the Church will look kindly on our history when they learn about it. Just remember, there is no such thing as Mormon fundamentalism.


S.Faux said…
The confusion between FLDS and the LDS is considerable here in Iowa. I have been asked multiple times about the differences. The HBO show "Big Love" does not exactly clarify the problem, but raises questions. My missionary son in south Salt Lake actually observed a couple of non-LDS polygamous families attending Wards. Even though long-abandoned, polygamy is still a type of problem for the Church. Mormons are associated with polygamy sort of like salt is associated with pepper. They are NOT the same thing, but the linkage will not disappear.

My ancestors were polygamists. My study of their lives has not impressed me very much. They lived a very hard existence. "Second-wives" were treated unfairly, and there were economic disparities too often among the wives.

I am a confirmed and determined monogamist, and to me that is "Celestial" enough. I cannot imagine polygamy ever being practiced again by the LDS. Practice of polygamy now days leads to immediate excommunication, once discovered.

Oh, yes, I am also a fan of Samuel W. Taylor. I don't always agree with his historical interpretations or his manner of documentation, but he was one heck of a talent. I would have liked to have met him before he died.
Brother Zelph said…
Polygamy was a central core doctrine of the church, and anyone that has done any kind of research on the subject understands that.

Even though the policy on polygamy is that it is currently banned, it is still very much a central core doctrine within the mainstream LDS church, it is just not being practiced.

We still have D&C 132 and men can be sealed to multiple women if they die, like Elder Oaks has acknowledged, but women can not get sealed to multiple men.

Of course there is a difference between the LDS and FLDS, but the difference is not in the doctrine, but in the practice.

When Hinckley said "there is no such thing as a Mormon Fundamentalist" it sounded like a Catholic that keeps assuring people that there is no such thing as a protestant.
Tim Malone said…

Yes, plural marriage is still a core doctrine of the Church. Of course, it is still in the Doctrine and Covenants. No surprise on the point about multiple women being sealed to one man if the first spouse dies.

No difference in LDS and FLDS doctrine? I don't know about that. The doctrine of the LDS Church is that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God. If he is a prophet and he teaches that we do not currently practice plural marriage then there is some disconnect there.

Apparently the doctrine of the FLDS Church is to ignore what the living prophet teaches. Of course, the majority of the FLDS have never been members of the LDS Church. Some were members long enough to be sealed in the temple, but those blessings are lost upon being excommunicated, aren't they?

They have no authorized baptism, no gift of the Holy Ghost, no priesthood and most importantly, no authorized temple ordinances. Hmmm...why did they build their own temple? They know how important the sealing power is, but just don't quite understand how priesthood keys work, do they?

President Hinckley was not denying the existence of polygamist sects. He was trying to clarify a common misconception that those who practice polygamy are members of the LDS Church. The world is slowly getting educated about these polygamous groups. It is such a fascinating topic to the curious.

We are just trying to make sure they get the whole story. Those who formed these groups did not do so under the direction of of those who hold the keys of the kingdom. So many people miss this critical point. Even many within the Church still do not understand. Without the sanction of those who hold the keys, there is no divine approval.
Anonymous said…
The fundamentals of Mormonism are belief in God, the Eternal Father, His son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. The first principles and ordinances are faith, repentance, baptism, and recieving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the Laying on of hands. Polygamy is not now, nor ever was "fundamental". It was practiced, commanded, and lived by some but certainly not all members of the 1850s Church. It was then ordered to stop. These are the facts. To say any more or less than this is to bend the facts to your will.
Anonymous said…

The FLDS can trace their priesthood lineage back to the same source you do.

Fundamentalist temple ordinances are full and complete, unlike the LDS temple ordinances, which have been changed many times over the years.

In D&C 1:15, the Lord explains why people are cut off.

"For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant"

Who has apostatized from the early teachings of the church? What group has rejected the new and everlasting covenant of plural marriage? Not to mention consecration, gathering, rebaptism, Adam-God, second anointings, etc... Who has changed the temple ordinances? Who changed the garments of the priesthood? The LDS church doesn't even administer the sacrament in accordance with the scriptures.

When you start looking the many doctrines the LDS have rejected over the years, and the many ordinances that have been changed, it's easy to see who the true apostates are.

"Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles." (Joseph Smith, TPJS p. 308)

"Where there is no change of priesthood, there is no change of ordinances..." (ibidem)
Anonymous said…
"The FLDS can trace their priesthood lineage back to the same source you do."

A half truth is a whole lie.
The FLDs do "trace" their priesthood back to Joseph Smith but they do so through a false line. They trace it threw Lorin "the liar" Whooley.
evangelical said…
Greetings Tim! I have some more to say over at the other post (Are Mormons Christians) but can't get into it on my computer for some reason or other so that'll have to wait for now. I was able to read your response however, and am encouraged by the very kind tone of it. Thanks.

For now, I'd like to focus in on this post. It is quit true that LDS persons frequently get a bum rap when characterised as polygamists. And there is some confusion about that point, however, the Church is doing what she can to clarify this. This is as it should be. So far so good.

Where is the problem? Well, there is more to be said about LDS and polygamy than you have presented to your readers. As a student of Mormonism, perhaps, I know some things that the average reader (who is also not a Mormon) would not know about such matters. And I think it is good for them to get both sides of this story.

First, I find the fact that you are admitting there are other Mormons (Mormons, at least, from their point-of-view) refreshing. On your own mission, didn't you use the unity of Mormonism, as opposed to the many splinter groups of Catholicism/Protestantism as a kind of evidence for encouraging potential converts to leave their faith and join the LDS? Perhaps you did not do this, but, in my experience, it is very common for missionaries to do this. Pointing out the many denominations of Protestantism but neglecting to mention the many denominations of Mormonism. But these other groups aren't REAL Mormons you say? So don't certain Protestants of a particular Protestant denomination say the same thing about members of other Protestant denominations?

Second, LDS persons do whole-heartedly BELIEVE in polygamy though they do not, it is true, practice it. At least, they stopped the practice of it in this life when it became culturally incovenient. As I understand it, the deities of the Celestial Kingdom ARE practicing polygamists.

Third, in the Book of Mormon, as I understand it (and I know you understand it differently) polygamy is condemed by God as an abomination.

Fourth, to all appearences to the Non-LDS eye, Joseph Smith seems to have legitimized polygamy when he started thinking about some "forbidden fruit". It is not adultery, he seems to have said, it is exaltation for all eternity. What is more, Smith, as I understand, hid his polygamy teachings from the general population. He even had to "marry" some of his "wives" a second time in front of his legal wife Emma because he kept his prior marriage to them a secret from her.

Fifth, just as polygamy seems to have started by revelation of what was convenient for the Saints, God just happened to reveal at just the convenient time, to stop the practice. Unless the official declaration is not to be considered inspired scripture, in which case, why follow the commandments and teachings of men?

Sixth, a fundamentalist Mormon would normally be understood as a Mormon who follows the fundamentals of the faith. And it does seem to be taught (in the D and C, or somewhere else by Smith) that polygamy is essential to becoming a god/dess. Why are LDS people not being more fundamental?

Seventh, you quote Gordon B. Hinkley, however, in a response to some of my previous comments, you seem to have said that dead Church authorities don't carry much weight. If I can't quote Bruce McConkie, you can't quote Gordon B Hinkly.

Eigth, polygamy is condemned, albeit implicitly, in the Bible, which, you claim to believe in.

Ninth, FLDS people, I presume, have their own prophet and general authorities and burning in the bossom to know they are right beyond all doubt, and the LDS are the REAL apostates. Why should I accept your subjective feelings over theirs? Come to think of it, why accept subjective feeling-and subjective feeling alone-be accepted when there is plenty of objective evidence for the truth of biblical Christianity and the falsehood (in part, not in whole) of Mormonism?

Lastly, I have not been beating around the bush in the above words. Nevertheless, I cannot stress strongly enough that I do not intend them to be taken as a personal attack on any Mormon/s and sincerely hope that while they shall be taken seriously, they shall not be taken as being too harsh. We are all friends here and may it always be so.
Tim Malone said…
Hi Evangelical,

Thanks for adding a few things to the discussion of polygamy and the LDS faith. You raise some very interesting points. Since the practice of polygamy in the mainstream LDS faith was way before my time, what I have learned about it has been first from internal LDS sources growing up and later from third party accounts of those who have studied the history and reported it as they discovered it.

I do not pretend to understand all the details of how or why the practice of Plural Marriage was instituted in the LDS faith. All I know is that I believe Joseph when he said he was commanded to do so as a part of the restoration of all things. And while others of my faith do not accept that plural mariage is still an official doctrine of the LDS faith, until section 132 is removed from the Doctrine and Covenants, I do.

I think I have made it clear how I feel about those who participate in polygamous marriages today. In my mind, they are apostates, or descendants of apostates. They are not following the direction of the living prophets on this matter. So if they or the media want to call themselves Fundamentalist Mormons, then that is their business. I like what President Hinckley had to say about it and have found nothing more relevant from President Monson to replace it. That's why I still use his comment.

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