The Mormon Church — officially the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) — is a peculiar religion.
Its founder, Joseph Smith, kept changing his initial account of his alleged vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ.
Throughout its history, the Mormon Church has attacked historical, orthodox Christianity. Among other things it has claimed that all churches are wrong, that Satan sits at the head of Christian churches, that none of the Christian churches have authority to act in God’s name, that Protestants are the harlot’s daughter, that the church is apostate, and that all churches collectively are the “whore of Babylon.”
It has also tried to pass itself of as the only genuine expression of the historical, orthodox Christian faith — preaching what it calls the ‘restored gospel.’
Yet its doctrines — which are ever changing — show that the Mormon Church is not in any way part of the Christian faith.
In fact, while the LDS Church uses Christian terminology (including the use of the name Jesus Christ) Mormon theology interprets that terminology in ways that show their religion is not compatible with — nor comparable to — Biblical Christianity.
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This means that the Mormon Church is, theologically, a cult of Christianity.
Like Christianity, the Mormon Church itself also has groups and movements that have separated themselves from the church. Members of these sects generally refer to themselves as Mormon Fundamentalists — a reference to the fact that, unlike the Mormon Church, they have held on to Mormonism’s original, ‘fundamental’ doctrines.
The LDS, meanwhile, has been fighting a Public Relations battle by trying to teach the media the differences between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and such offshoots as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS). The latter has received much media coverage in recent years due to the prosecution and jailing of its leader, Warren Jeffs, and the raid on its Texas compound.
However, in doing so the LDS Church has been less than honest. Hence a coalition of Fundamentalist Mormons respond as follows:
Fundamentalists: We’re Mormon, too
A coalition that represents fundamentalist Mormons has issued a statement objecting to the LDS Church’s attempts to deny their claim to a shared Mormon heritage.
The Principle Voices Coalition, based in Salt Lake City, said that members “strenuously object to any efforts to deprive us and others of the freedom to name and describe ourselves by terms of our own choosing.”
Two weeks ago, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints launched a media campaign aimed at distinguishing itself from the breakaway sects.
The church said its effort was primarily aimed at clarifying the difference between the LDS Church and the FLDS sect, necessary because of widespread coverage of Texas authorities’ raid on the sect’s west Texas ranch.
The LDS Church said a poll showed more than a third of those surveyed thought the sect was part of the Mormon Church based in Salt Lake City.
“It’s obvious we need to do more to help people understand the enormous differences that exist between our Church, which is a global faith, and these small polygamous groups,” said Quentin L. Cook, an LDS Church elder, in a statement issued June 26.
He also said that “Mormons have nothing whatsoever to do with this polygamous sect in Texas,” reiterating comments made several years ago by former LDS Church president Gordon B. Hinckley that there is no such thing as fundamentalist Mormons.
But the coalition objects to any attempts to limit use of the term.
“Fundamentalist Mormons have been referred to by that name since the 1930s, often by the Church itself,” the coalition said in its statement. “We are proud of our Mormon heritage. Plural marriage is only one of the tenets of our religion, the Gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through Joseph Smith.”
The LDS Church has asked that media refer to those who follow the original beliefs set down by Joseph Smith as “polygamous sects,” the group said, but “most of us are not (and do not refer to ourselves as) polygamists.”
The coalition said the statement had been authorized by the Apostolic United Brethren, the Davis County Cooperative Society, The Work of Jesus Christ and numerous independent fundamentalist Mormons.
The statement was not signed by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days or several smaller groups.
The coalition said the LDS Church has experienced a similar problem with refusals of some Christian denominations to recognize Latter-day Saints as Christians.
“In many ways, we consider ourselves to be adherents to Mormonism (and Christianity) no less than were Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and John Taylor,” the coalition’s statement said. “What distinguishes us from the modern, mainstream Church is that we have endeavored to observe the original, fundamental precepts of the restored Gospel, while the Church itself has, since the early 1900s, repudiated several of them.
For the most part, the doctrines and practices of Mormon Fundamentalists are closer to those of the original Mormon Church than are the doctrines and practices of today’s Mormon Church. The Principle Voices Coalition says as much in its statement, which reads as follows:
“Fundamentalist Mormon” is the Correct Term Contrary to LDS Church Claims
The Principle Voices Coalition has learned that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sent a letter to media outlets asking that the term “fundamentalist Mormon” not be used. In the recent past, the Church has insisted that we instead be defined as “polygamous sects”, even though most of us are not (and do not refer to ourselves as) polygamists.
We strenuously object to any efforts to deprive us and others of the freedom to name and describe ourselves by terms of our own choosing.
Fundamentalist Mormons have been referred to by that name since the 1930s, often by the Church itself. We are proud of our Mormon heritage. Plural marriage is only one of the tenets of our religion, the Gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through Joseph Smith.
Ironically, the LDS Church has been justifiably uncomfortable with repeated assertions by members of some Christian denominations that Latter-day Saints are not Christians. In many ways, we consider ourselves to be adherents to Mormonism (and Christianity) no less than were Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and John Taylor.
What distinguishes us from the modern, mainstream Church is that we have endeavored to observe the original, fundamental precepts of the restored Gospel, while the Church itself has, since the early 1900s, repudiated several of them.
Polygamists Fight Church to be Called Mormon
Fundamentalists revere the same prophets as the mainstream Mormon church, including founder Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, both of whom practiced polygamy. They also share the mainline church’s use of the Book of Mormon as a primary text, along with the Doctrine & Covenants, in which plural marriage remains part of scriptural teachings.
“I don’t know how you can’t call them fundamentalist Mormons,” said John Walsh, a Mormon and religious scholar, who served as an expert witness for the state of Texas during the FLDS case. “A Mormon is someone who believes in the Book of Mormon … who has a belief that Joseph Smith was called of God in some way.”
From the fundamentalist point of view, they are the “real Mormons” because they continue to adhere to Smith’s original teaching that polygamy brought exaltation in heaven, said B. Carmon Hardy, a polygamy expert and retired history professor at California State University-Fullerton.
In 1890, a Mormon church manifesto denounced polygamy and opened the door for Utah’s statehood. But church leaders continued to privately sanction plural marriage for decades, scattering some Mormons to Mexico and other locations to continue the practice. The author of two volumes on polygamy, Hardy said it wasn’t until the 1920s that church leadership began to actively excommunicate known polygamists.
“These fundamentalists had good reason to look upon themselves as the most faithful,” Hardy said.
The raid on the FLDS’ Yearning for Zion ranch near Eldorado, Texas, led to two months of news reports that cast negative publicity on the 13 million-member mainstream Mormon church. A Mormon church-paid survey of 1,000 Texans found 36 percent believed the two churches were directly connected. That prompted the Mormons to launch a campaign of videos, stories and bullet-point explainers that seek to better define differences between Mormons and polygamous groups.
Among the difference the church outlines:
— The Mormon church excommunicates members found practicing it;
— Members wear regular, modern clothes and have contemporary hairstyles;
— The church encourages both secular and religious education;
— The church doesn’t practice or condone arranged marriages; and
— One cannot be a polygamist and be Mormon.
Principle Voices co-founder Mary Batchelor said fundamentalists take exception to the church’s list.
“The inference is that the differences are wide,” said Batchelor, an independent who is not currently in a plural marriage. “We have a lot of those same values, we may not have millions of members, so we don’t have the same reach, but we are not that different.”
Batchelor said two pages of enumerated differences show a lack of understanding on the part of the Mormons.
“It stereotypes everybody based on what’s been printed in some newspapers,” she said. “We think that’s unfair. It’s generalizing.”
A survey by Principle Voices conducted in 2006 found roughly 37,000 self-described Mormon fundamentalists living across the West, including Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota and Texas. The majority do not belong to any organized church.