Mormon Fundamentalism VS. The LDS Church
There seems to be a lot of interest lately on the subject of Mormon fundamentalism, particularly the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) so I will speak on the subject. There are many people that see reports on t.v. about polygamist groups and associate these groups with the LDS church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Part of the reason for the confusion is over the use of the word "Mormon" when describing these groups.
LDS Church-The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I use the term "LDS Church" in reference to the mainstream church that most people refer as the "Mormon church".
Mormon-This term is usually used to describe a member of the LDS Church. However, it can also accurately be used to describe followers of other groups, which I will explain. To clarify in this case, I will use the term "mainstream Mormon" to refer to members of the LDS church.
Mormon fundamentalist-Someone that believes that the original teachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young are eternal and everlasting and the doctrines and practices can not ever change. The main points of these doctrines usually include the earthly practice of plural marriage (polygamy) and the law of consecration, along with other doctrines such as the Adam-God doctrine among many others.
FLDS-Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is a Mormon Fundamentalist church that is not affiliated with the LDS church.
First, I would like to address the confusion that is out there. Many people still to this day think that Mormon Fundamentalists are somehow affiliated or associated with mainstream Mormons. This is simply not the case. Mormon Fundamentalists are groups that have splintered or broken off of the LDS church, many of them decades ago principally over the doctrine of polygamy.
LDS vs. FLDS
The LDS church does not currently practice polygamy. The LDS church abandoned the practice of polygamy gradually from 1890 to the early 1900's. The LDS church excommunicates any member that practices polygamy.
There exists a lot of confusion regarding mainstream Mormons and Mormon fundamentalists. Mormon fundamentalist groups like the FLDS that practice polygamy have nothing to do with the LDS church. The source of this confusion could be the commonality of the word "Mormon" used to describe both groups. When people hear these terms, they assume that they are connected with the LDS church, since most people know the LDS church as the "Mormon church", which is a misnomer.
Frankly, I understand and can empathize with the frustration of the LDS church in trying to distinguish themselves from Mormon fundamentalists. The LDS church has even attempted to go as far as saying that they don't even exist.
Gordon B. Hinckley has said "There is no such thing as a 'Mormon fundamentalist.' It is a contradiction to use the two words together".
Are Mormon Fundamentalists "Mormon"?
This completely depends on your definition of the word "Mormon". Usually, the word "Mormon" is in reference to a member of the LDS Church. In this definition, Mormon fundamentalists are not "Mormon" in the sense that they are not members of the LDS church. However, in a broader sense of the word, a "Mormon" can correctly be applied to anyone that adheres to the teachings of Mormonism, as established by Joseph Smith, and considers themselves to be a Mormon. This was always my understanding of the term "Mormon" as defined by an encyclopedia I read in my youth.
Are Mormons Christian?
Many members and leaders of the LDS church have been trying to assert to mainstream Christianity that they are in fact Christians. Even though the views differ from traditional Christianity, the LDS church and its members make this assertion.
When Salt Lake hosted the winter Olympics, the leadership of the church expressed the importance of its insistence of being regarded a Christian church and attempted to try to distance itself from the use of the term "Mormon Church.
"the church's hierarchy recently advised the media that the term is no longer acceptable. Henceforth, officials declared, short references to the church should read: "The Church of ." In this way the church hopes to emphasize what Mormons share with historic Christianity, not what makes them different."
From Jeff Lindsey's blog(member of the LDS church): "I definitely consider myself a Christian, meaning that I look to Christ as my Savior and Redeemer, and that I seek to follow Him. You may disagree with other doctrines, but please don't assume this means that I am not Christian. However, I realize that some of our doctrines, as painted by opponents of the Church, sound odd, especially our ideas about the relationship between man and God. But our doctrines are rooted in scripture and are those of the earliest Christians - really."
Here is the ultimate irony. Here, you have a member of the LDS church defending the position that Mormons are Christians, yet most of mainstream Christianity that I have spoken with do not recognize Mormons as Christians. The irony is when the tables are turned, the mainstream LDS church gives Mormon fundamentalists the exact same treatment by asserting that Mormon Fundamentalists are not "Mormon".
Use the Same Argument For Mormon Fundamentalists
The same argument from Jeff Lindsey's defense for being Christian can be made to defend Mormon fundamentalists as being Mormon with a slight tweak. Imagine if a Mormon fundamentalist made this statement to the LDS church:
"I definitely consider myself a Mormon, meaning that I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that I seek to follow his teachings. You may disagree with other doctrines, but please don't assume this means that I am not Mormon. However, I realize that some of our doctrines, as painted by opponents of the FLDS Church, sound odd, especially our ideas about the relationship between Adam and God, or polygamy. But our doctrines are rooted in scripture, and are those of the earliest Mormons - really."
Who or What is Mormon?- It is all About Semantics
I believe that there should be a correction of the use of the term "Mormon" to the more broad sense of the word, as any group that follows the teachings of Mormonism and considers themselves to be Mormon. I understand the concern of the LDS church in trying to distinguish themselves with other smaller followers of Mormonism. There is even a distinction within Mormon fundamentalists that try to dis-associate themselves with the FLDS church and consider Warren Jeffs a false prophet.
The LDS church has suggested that the correct term to use to describe Mormon fundamentalists is "polygamist sects" in place of "Mormon sects" or even Mormon fundamentalists. They are trying to get people to not incorporate the word "Mormon" when describing other groups. However, the term "polygamist sect" is very problematic. Not all Mormon Fundamentalists practice polygamy. Most believe in the principal, but are not currently practicing it. Some could be widows, some could be children too young to be married, many live a monogamous lifestyle, but generally still believe in the principal. What are we to call these individuals, Polygamists?
The LDS church fits into the criteria for the term "polygamist sect", as the principal of polygamy is still very much a part of the doctrine of the church as it is expected to be practiced in heaven as I have talked about in a previous post. So the LDS church fits under the definition of a "polygamist sect" if they can be called polygamists just for believing in the principal, but not actually practice it.
The other problem is not all splinter groups of Mormonism practice or believe in the doctrine of polygamy. The Community of Christ is the largest group that broke off of the LDS church and it does not teach the doctrine of polygamy nor does it recognize Brigham Young as a prophet. They deny or downplay Joseph Smith's practices and teachings of polygamy. The Community of Christ is not considered part of Mormon fundamentalism.
Different Groups Within Mormonism
There are different flavors of Christianity and Mormonism is no different. The most well known is the LDS church, however, there are many other churches that all proclaim to be the true Mormons:
Apostolic United Brethren
Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days
Community of Christ (originally the Re-organized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
Latter-day Church of Christ
Righteous Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
United Latter-day Church of Jesus Christ
All of these and countless other smaller groups consider themselves the true "Mormons" as in the real followers of the Book of Mormon and the teachings of Joseph Smith. I do not believe that the LDS church has a monopoly on the word "Mormon", even if they are the largest organization. I believe that the word "Mormon" should begin to be viewed in a general term like "Christian", not a specific term like "Catholic". I think a member of the LDS church can still call themselves "Mormon" for short, but so should members of other churches that teach the principals of Mormonism.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Mormon Fundamentalism VS. The LDS Church