I thought we had seen a climax in religious bigotry during the Romney campaign, but we may see new even more intense flare-ups fueled by the FLDS fiasco. Some enemies of the Church are wasting no time in trying to paint the Mormons and the fundamentalists with the same brush, as if the child abuse and other problems among the group are our fault. There are common roots, but they are a separate group fully at odds with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They have departed from us in many ways, similar to how Protestants and Roman Catholics parted during the Reformation (I mean no offense to either group in saying this – I’m just reminding you that Protestants split off from the Catholics). In spite of the theological divide and even warfare between those groups several hundred years ago, they had common roots and many common beliefs, but it would be grossly unfair to blame Lutherans or Catholics, for example, for possible crimes of the other. But to non-Christians, it might be easy to lump all Christians together and unfairly blame innocent parties.
Linking the FLDS group with the Latter-day Saints has been a problem in sloppy reporting and writing for some time, though it’s understandable how some journalists with little knowledge of the subject matter can make that mistake. Perhaps it’s not always accidental, though. Critics love to group us with the FLDS. For example, John Krakauer’s derisive tome, Under the Banner of Heaven, does that. Allen Wyatt explains:
Krakauer says “there are more than thirty thousand FLDS (fundamentalist latter-day saint) polygamists living in Canada, Mexico, and throughout the American West. Some experts estimate there may be as many as one hundred thousand.” In his words, “Mormon authorities treat the fundamentalists as they would a crazy uncle–they try to keep the ‘polygs’ hidden in the attic, safely out of sight, but the fundamentalists always seem to be sneaking out to appear in public at inopportune moments to create unsavory scenes, embarrassing the entire LDS clan.” Krakauer deftly establishes a connection between the Church and fundamentalists, so he can color the lot with the same spray paint. (Of course, deftness has never been a synonym for accuracy, but such a distinction would be largely lost on a reader uneducated in LDS history.) Krakauer never does indicate why the LDS Church should accept responsibility for offshoots of the main Church, nor does he indicate what form any supposed responsibility should take. Apparently it is not enough to excommunicate them from the Church and cooperate with law enforcement authorities, where appropriate.
Krakuer also calls for the LDS Church to “do something” about the FLDS group – as if excommunicating, opposing, and cooperating with authorities to deal with actual crimes is not enough. Are we supposed to send in armed troops or something?
Scott Gordon, President of FAIR, recently commented on the vast differences between our Church and the apostate FLDS group in his April 2008 FAIR Journal newsletter. Here is an excerpt:
So where did the FLDS church come from and just how closely connected is it to the LDS church? The FLDS claim that their line of authority starts with Wilford Woodruff, but then their leadership continues as follows:
* Lorin Wolley, excommunicated from the LDS church in 1924.
* Leslie Broadbent, excommunicated from the LDS church in 1929.
* John Barlow, excommunicated from the LDS church in 1923.
* Joseph Musser, excommunicated from the LDS church in 1929.
* Charles Zitting, excommunicated from the LDS church in 1928.
* Leroy Johnson, excommunicated from the LDS church in 1935.
* Rulon Jeffs, excommunicated from the LDS church 1941.
Warren Jeffs, son of Rulon Jeffs, was born in 1956 and has never been a member of the LDS church. Most members of the FLDS church have never been members of the LDS church but are the children or grandchildren of Latter-day Saints who were excommunicated in the 1920s and 1930s.
There are those who say that modern fundamentalists are a reflection of 19th-century Mormonism and that looking at this group is like looking into our past. I reject that claim because there are deep and significant differences between the two groups. Granted, both groups believe in the Book of Mormon and both groups either practice, or have practiced, plural marriage. I’m sure that upon investigation you can find other similarities as well. But the differences between the two groups, both past and present, are great.
We do not isolate ourselves from the communities where we live. Even when geographically isolated, we have always been known for actively engaging the rest of society through missionary travels and encouraging others to visit our communities. Latter-day Saints have always eagerly sought out magazines, newspapers, and books from other parts of the country and world and have strongly encouraged our members to be well-read and acquainted with the events of the world.
While keeping to our standards of modesty, we retain the dress and grooming standards of the cultures where we live.
We strongly encourage education and have a long history of sending LDS men and women to the best colleges and universities in the world, both as students and as educators, and today LDS members average a higher level of education than the general population of the United States and Canada.
The FLDS practice the “Law of placing,” or assignment of marriages, combined with a high level of control of the membership. This contrasts greatly with the LDS. We have no arranged marriages and the average age for LDS marriages is 23. Throughout LDS history, free agency has been a ruling principle. In 19th century LDS plural marriages women were freely allowed to marry, divorce, and leave the community. My own great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Clark Crouch, was in a plural marriage, and she divorced her husband and left the community with no ramifications. There was no danger of having her children reassigned to anyone else. It was more difficult for men to obtain a divorce, as it was believed that the men should provide economic and social support since there was no state welfare program and women had limited employment opportunities. Kathryn M. Daynes discusses the economic underpinnings of plural marriage in her book titled “More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910.”
Some critics try to draw parallels with the FLDS because in the 19th century some LDS women were getting married while still teenagers. While we are sometimes uncomfortable with these younger marriages, a study comparing marriage ages shows that the Latter-day Saints were in line with the general population. Looking at 1850 census data, we find that the national teenage marriage rate was higher than the teenage marriage rate in Utah. And while early Mormons were criticized for the practice of polygamy, there are no known attacks on the church based on the ages of the girls getting married. You can read more information about that here.
We had no lost boys like the FLDS church does. Young men were not cast out to create an imbalance of men and women. You can read more on that topic and more on marriage age here
Another difference with the FLDS church is their idea that more wives equals a greater chance of exaltation. While our critics like to claim we believed that, Brigham Young stated quite clearly that not everyone would, or should, practice plural marriage. Several members of church leadership–including apostles–were not polygamists. Some of Brigham’s more controversial statements, when read in context, seem to use plural marriage as an example to focus on the idea of being willing to follow God rather than whether or not you actually practiced plural marriage. If plural marriage were required for heaven, why did some members of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles, our top leadership group, not practice it?
If you would like to read more about fundamentalist Mormonism, I recommend the book “Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations after the Manifesto” by Brian C. Hales.
You can also find more information on the Internet about the FLDS church and other fundamentalist groups here, in Hales’ website:
There are many differences between the LDS and FLDS churches, and except in very superficial ways, the FLDS church does not look like either the current LDS church nor the LDS church of the 19th century. The LDS church has issued a press release and video highlighting some of the differences between the LDS and FLDS faiths. You can listen to Elder Quentin L. Cook speak on the subject here
I am both hopeful and confident that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will continue to become better known, better understood, and better appreciated for the dedication of its members to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As journalist and especially anti-Mormon critics describe the FLDS group as “Mormon” and even show pictures of the Salt Lake Temple or other Mormon scenes when describing the crazy and frightening behaviors of the FLDS apostates (most of whom have never been LDS), it will be important for us to speak up and explain that those people aren’t us and don’t represent our values, our beliefs, or our behaviors.
I also suggest you all sign up for the monthly Fair Journal.