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.
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.