Mormons dropped polygamy more than a century ago, but image problem persists

SALT LAKE CITY — This weekend 100,000 Mormons gather for their biannual General Conference in Salt Lake City. Millions more worldwide will watch broadcasts in 85 languages.

As the faithful meet, the church is still trying to to shake perceptions that it endorses polygamy, the practice that it disavowed in 1890. However, it’s unlikely plural marriage will even be mentioned at the meeting that starts Saturday despite some recent high-profile cases involving self-described Mormon fundamentalists who have been shunned by the mainstream church.

Since 2001, several Mormon fundamentalists have been charged with crimes tied to polygamy.

The most prominent is Warren Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who is jailed in southern Utah on charges of being an accomplice to rape by arranging the marriage of a minor to an older man.

“Almost 10 years ago or so, literally, it was not a big deal,” said Jan Shipps, professor emeritus of history and religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University, who has written about Mormons.


“Now it has suddenly emerged into the public domain and (the church) has to find a way to talk about it again,” she said.

The issue is “really aggravating” to the church, said D. Michael Quinn, former history professor at church-owned Brigham Young University.

“The fact remains that these people who have extra wives call themselves Mormon. They believe in the Book of Mormon,” he said. “So it’s inevitable that this linkage is going to be there.”

The roughly 10,000 members of Jeffs’ sect, who mostly live along the Utah-Arizona border, are among an estimated 37,000 fundamentalists in western states who believe plural marriage is essential for their exaltation in heaven. Jeffs is said to have more than 40 wives.


Many fundamentalists claim Mormon church founder Joseph Smith as their original prophet and use the Book of Mormon as the cornerstone of their faith.


Mormon officials, however, say a few shared traits don’t put the fundamentalists in the same category as members of the Salt Lake City-based church. “Warren Jeffs is Not a Mormon,” the church’s Web site declares.

The Mormon Church

Given that the theology and practice of the Mormon Church violates essential Christian doctrines, Mormonism does not represent historical, Biblical Christianity, is not a Christian denomination, and is not in any way part of the Christian church.

“Catholics, Protestants, Methodists, Jehovah Witnesses, Lutherans, evangelicals and a host of other faiths believe in Jesus and claim the Bible as their own, yet all consider themselves separate and distinct faiths,” said Kim Farah, a Mormon church spokeswoman.

“The same is true for all religious groups who believe in Joseph Smith and use The Book of Mormon,” Farah said.

In 1890, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Wilford Woodruff, declared a manifesto after receiving a revelation during prayer: The faithful were to obey U.S. law and cease the practice of polygamy. It came as the government was threatening to seize church property and prosecute Mormons unless they stopped plural marriage.

Retired BYU history professor Thomas Alexander, a Woodruff biographer, said there’s nothing Mormons can do about how others identify them.

“The only thing we can try to do is differentiate ourselves, and that’s extremely difficult to do,” he said.

It’s difficult because polygamy didn’t quickly end with Woodruff’s manifesto in 1890, scholars say.

The practice continued secretly among some Mormons into the 20th century. When exposed in 1904, the manifesto was restated and the church began excommunicating members who violated it.

Nonetheless, polygamy has not been removed from the church’s Doctrine and Covenants, which describe Mormonism’s bedrock tenets.

Mormons believe in continuing revelations, meaning church doctrine can change. Woodruff’s manifesto, Farah notes, came long after original doctrine was written.

“Asking why the church does not still believe in polygamy because it appears in its scriptures is like asking Christians to explain why they discontinued stoning people for adultery,” the church spokeswoman said.

“It appears in the Scriptures but has been superseded by later revelation,” Farah said.

___

On the Net:

Mormon church: http://www.lds.org

SALT LAKE CITY This weekend 100,000 Mormons gather for their biannual General Conference in Salt Lake City. Millions more worldwide will watch broadcasts in 85 languages.

As the faithful meet, the church is still trying to to shake perceptions that it endorses polygamy, the practice that it disavowed in 1890. However, it’s unlikely plural marriage will even be mentioned at the meeting that starts Saturday despite some recent high-profile cases involving self-described Mormon fundamentalists who have been shunned by the mainstream church.

Since 2001, several Mormon fundamentalists have been charged with crimes tied to polygamy.

The most prominent is Warren Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who is jailed in southern Utah on charges of being an accomplice to rape by arranging the marriage of a minor to an older man.

“Almost 10 years ago or so, literally, it was not a big deal,” said Jan Shipps, professor emeritus of history and religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University, who has written about Mormons.

“Now it has suddenly emerged into the public domain and (the church) has to find a way to talk about it again,” she said.

The issue is “really aggravating” to the church, said D. Michael Quinn, former history professor at church-owned Brigham Young University.

“The fact remains that these people who have extra wives call themselves Mormon. They believe in the Book of Mormon,” he said. “So it’s inevitable that this linkage is going to be there.”

The roughly 10,000 members of Jeffs’ sect, who mostly live along the Utah-Arizona border, are among an estimated 37,000 fundamentalists in western states who believe plural marriage is essential for their exaltation in heaven. Jeffs is said to have more than 40 wives.

Many fundamentalists claim Mormon church founder Joseph Smith as their original prophet and use the Book of Mormon as the cornerstone of their faith.

Mormon officials, however, say a few shared traits don’t put the fundamentalists in the same category as members of the Salt Lake City-based church. “Warren Jeffs is Not a Mormon,” the church’s Web site declares.

“Catholics, Protestants, Methodists, Jehovah Witnesses, Lutherans, evangelicals and a host of other faiths believe in Jesus and claim the Bible as their own, yet all consider themselves separate and distinct faiths,” said Kim Farah, a Mormon church spokeswoman.

“The same is true for all religious groups who believe in Joseph Smith and use The Book of Mormon,” Farah said.

In 1890, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Wilford Woodruff, declared a manifesto after receiving a revelation during prayer: The faithful were to obey U.S. law and cease the practice of polygamy. It came as the government was threatening to seize church property and prosecute Mormons unless they stopped plural marriage.

Retired BYU history professor Thomas Alexander, a Woodruff biographer, said there’s nothing Mormons can do about how others identify them.

“The only thing we can try to do is differentiate ourselves, and that’s extremely difficult to do,” he said.

It’s difficult because polygamy didn’t quickly end with Woodruff’s manifesto in 1890, scholars say.

The practice continued secretly among some Mormons into the 20th century. When exposed in 1904, the manifesto was restated and the church began excommunicating members who violated it.

Nonetheless, polygamy has not been removed from the church’s Doctrine and Covenants, which describe Mormonism’s bedrock tenets.

Mormons believe in continuing revelations, meaning church doctrine can change. Woodruff’s manifesto, Farah notes, came long after original doctrine was written.

“Asking why the church does not still believe in polygamy because it appears in its scriptures is like asking Christians to explain why they discontinued stoning people for adultery,” the church spokeswoman said.

“It appears in the Scriptures but has been superseded by later revelation,” Farah said.

We appreciate your support


AFFILIATE LINKS

Our website includes affiliate links, which means we get a small commission — at no additional cost to you — for each qualifying purpose. For instance, as an Amazon Associate Religion News Blog earns from qualifying purchases. That is one reason why we can provide this service free of charge.

Source

(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
AP, via the International Herald Tribune, USA
Sep. 30, 2006
www.iht.com

More About This Subject

This post was last updated: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 9:53 AM, Central European Time (CET)