It’s been distressing to hear many news outlets refer to the FLDS cult in Texas as Mormons or even ex-Mormons. That’s like calling Methodists “Ex-Catholics.” Both my church, which is the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-Day Saints (or LDS church) and the Fundamentalist LDS church, believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet and the Book of Mormon is scripture. That’s where the similarities end.
It is true that in one point in history, over 100 years ago, my Church practiced polygamy. Here is what you need to know about that:
1. It was only practiced by a small percentage of members.
2. It was 100% voluntary.
3. It has never been and never will be a requirement in order to get into heaven.
4. It only involved single women entering into legal marriage arrangements. A man and friend of Joseph Smith’s named John C Bennett decided to preach something called “spiritual wifery” which consisted of him being able to have sexual relations with women already married to other men, or single women to whom he was not married. He was caught and excommunicated. In retaliation, he spread the rumor that Joseph was coming after people’s wives and young daughters. This rumor lead directly to Joseph’s illegal arrest and subsequent murder by a mob.
5. The practice was ended when it was formally made illegal in the United States. Utah wanted to become an official U.S. state, and it is a part of the LDS faith to obey the law.
The FLDS version of polygamy is completely opposite. The FLDS Church teaches that:
1. All members must live in polygamous relationships in order to make it to heaven.
2. The marriages are frequently arranged (as in you have no choice in who your spouse is).
3. A man’s number of wives are a reflection of his righteousness and his future position in heaven. A woman’s number of children are also a reflection of her spiritual standing.
4. If a man “sins,” his wife/wives and children can be taken from him and assigned to another man.
5. The FLDS church practices polygamy illegally.
I’m not completely familiar with the website Light Planet, but this page on the history of Mormon Polygamy appears to be a very accurate reprinting of a section of the Church’s official Encyclopedia of Mormonism (it is annoying how many websites have edited and altered versions of official Church records in order to further their own biased agenda).
That said, I have tried to keep an open mind about the FLDS church, as I know from personal experience that ex-members of any church are not always reliable sources about what really happens in any given religion.
What I know comes from certain things hard to ignore, such as the growing population of excommunicated teenaged boys ostracized and made homeless from the FLDS communities for petty causes. Referred to as “The Lost Boys,” there are several Utah groups trying to help these young men integrate into society, continue their educations, and try to re-establish contact with their families if desired. It would appear that these young men are basically being kicked out to thin the competition for wives, since young girls are not being ejected from the community.
There is also the fact that their prophet, Warren Jeffs, is currently incarcerated for his role in forcing some under-aged girls into arranged marriages. Once he was sentenced, he resigned as his church’s president, though whether he still maintains his position as prophet remains unclear.
Sound clips of his teachings can be found all over the internet. I know from the political madness out there that sond clips can be deceiving, but it is a bit difficult to imagine a change in context making these teachings less strange or offensive to those of us who find forced polygamy and female repression abhorrent. He also appears to be responsible for some very hateful, racist comments too dreadful to repeat here.
A few ex-members maintain that the FLDS church, while not very progressive or legal, was still a relatively functional community until Warren Jeffs became prophet, who proceeded to change the church’s preferred marriage age from 18 to 15 for girls, and instigated other practices within the church that eroded the rights and standard of living for women and children.
I am speculating that some perceive him as a fallen prophet being punished for these changes, and others still insist he acts on behalf of God, and that there is going to be a major division in the church over the issue.
As for my Church, one only need read a few pages of my blog’s posts to conclude I am not the least bit repressed. Do some LDS church members abuse their wives and children? Yes. Horrible people pretending to be good people exist in all churches and all cultures. However, my Church’s official teachings are peaceful and beautiful to me, and my Prophet, Thomas S Monson, is sweet, funny, and kind.
As a final thought, compare these quotes:
“And ladies, build up your husband by being submissive. That’s how you will give your children success; you will want your children to be obedient, to be submissive to righteous living.” -Warren Jeffs
“I wonder if you sisters can fully appreciate the innate gifts, blessings, and endowments you have simply because you are daughters of God. It is a mistake for women to think that life begins only with marriage. A woman can and must have an identity and feel useful, valued, and needed whether she is single or married. She must feel that she can do something for someone else that no one else ever born can do.” – Thomas S Monson