||UNDERSTANDING POLYGAMY & FUNDAMENTALISM
It is estimated that there are at least 30,000 Mormon Fundamentalists living in North America, most of them in the Intermountain western states (Utah, Idaho, and Arizona, Nevada), but many are located in many other states across the nation, as well as in Canada and Mexico. The actual number of Mormon Fundamentalists is likely much higher, perhaps as many as 100,000. (The 30,000 figure only represents those who openly report themselves as Mormon Fundamentalists; however, most practicing Fundamentalists prefer not to disclose their lifestyles.)
"Mormon Fundamentalist" is a term that is used to describe a particular religious group or sect (or individual) who espouses the Mormon scriptures (The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine & Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price) and who follow the original teachings of Mormonism's early leaders, such as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Mormon Fundamentalists are most noted for their practice of polygamy, and in many cases, the "United Order" which is a form of religious communism, in which the leadership exercises partial or even absolute authority over all members' assets.
Mainstream Mormonism, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, differs from the Fundamentalist groups, in that they abandoned the practice of polygamy in the late 1800s and early 1900s, because of political pressure from the US Government. Today the mainstream LDS Church actively seeks to distance itself from their Fundamentalist "cousins" because of the negative stigma of polygamy.
Mormon fundamentalists, however, continue to embrace the doctrine and practice of polygamy, or "plural marriage" as it is generally referred to. It is a central tenet of Mormon fundamentalism, and is considered a requirement for achieving salvation or "exaltation" which is the highest "degree of glory" in Heaven--godhood.
Mormon fundamentalists generally reject the mainstream LDS Church as misguided at best, apostate at worst, because they abandoned the practice of polygamy, which was originally presented as a "new and everlasting covenant" by Joseph Smith. Likewise, the mainstream LDS Church will not accept anyone as a member who is known to be practicing polygamy.
Therefore, Mormon fundamentalists believe that they are practicing "true" orthodox Mormonism; and it could certainly be argued that, in terms of doctrine, practice, and lifestyle, the fundamentalist groups more closely resemble the Mormonism of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young than does the mainstream LDS Church today.
There are perhaps dozens of different Mormon fundamentalist groups, ranging in size from a couple hundred to several thousand. The largest Fundamentalist group, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or FLDS) is also the most notorious (it was this group that was involved in the 2007 raid in Texas). While it is the most visible and prolific of the Fundamentalist groups, it is not the only Fundamentalist group in existence. Each group has differences in lifestyle, secondary doctrinal issues and leadership. The chief differences between the groups is not doctrine, however, but rather who is the rightful leader of "God's Church". Virtually all of the groups believe that obedience to the “celestial principal of plural marriage" is their means to salvation, or exaltation.
There are also many "independent" fundamentalists--individuals who live the principles of Mormon fundamentalism, including plural marriage, but are not associated with any particular group. Some of them are actually members of the mainstream LDS Church, although they risk excommunication if they are found to be practicing polygamy.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF MORMON FUNDAMENTALISM
Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, claimed to have received the directive to live polygamy straight from the mouth of God. Smith recorded this revelation in Section 132 of The Doctrine & Covenants, one of the Mormon Scriptures (which are held in higher esteem than The Bible).
The "revelation" in Section 132 threatens damnation and destruction to those who reject the lifestyle of polygamy, or "celestial marriage" as it was generally called. Smith even referred to the practice of plural marriage as the “new and everlasting covenant.” Nevertheless, the Mormon church officially gave up the practice of plural marriage around 1890, and it was phased out of practice over the next couple of decades. However, this directive remains a part of their scriptures:
For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory. (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132:4)
The abandonment of plural marriage outraged many Mormons (who had been taught that it was an "everlasting" covenant), and following the mainstream church's rejection of the practice, many "breakaway" groups formed, generally rallying around one self-proclaimed leader or another, most claiming some sort of legitimate succession from Joseph Smith or one of the early prophets. Some of the groups formed shortly after the abandonment of plural marriage by the LDS Church; other groups have formed more recently in modern movements to return to the "fundamentals" of Mormonism, in response to compromises on matters of doctrine and practice within the mainstream LDS Church.
CHARACTERISTICS of MORMON FUNDAMENTALISTS
There are significant differences among the various groups so it is difficult to paint them all with the same brush. Some live in isolated compounds; others live among the general population. Some follow strict dress codes and other rules of conduct; others have greater degrees of freedom. Some groups are known to promote violence, sexual abuse, incest, and marriage of underage girls; while in other groups, these practices are at least outwardly condemned (though all groups possess these disturbing elements to one degree or another). Some independent fundamentalists keep their polygamous practices a secret, and exist within the mainline Mormon Church. The unifying factor among Mormon fundamentalists is the belief in the doctrine and practice of polygamy as taught by the early founders of Mormonism, such as Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor.
Mormon fundamentalists are very religious people. They are fervently dedicated to their spiritual belief system. They are true, ardent believers, and willingly face the hardships and struggles that often accompany the polygamist lifestyle, because they genuinely believe that it is what God requires. It has been said that if Christians lived for the truth as hard as the cults live for a lie, the whole world would soon be evangelized. Fundamentalists work hard, and live hard for their beliefs.
Many suppose that polygamy is all about the sexual gratification of polygamist husbands. While no doubt there is some truth to this, the practice of polygamy is a religious matter, something done out of obedience to leaders (and misguided obedience to what they believe God requires). While the women and the children are the ones who suffer most acutely in polygamous arrangements, the lifestyle of polygamy is difficult for the men, as well. It has been said that polygamy "turns good men into bad, and bad men into monsters."
The Economics of Fundamentalism
Mormon fundamentalists by and large have a strong and loyal work ethic. They work long and hard. Most are not afraid of difficult manual labor. Their work is for the “kingdom” and they give all they’ve got.
Mormon Fundamentalist groups often run very successful and lucrative businesses, particularly in the areas of greatest concentration (the Intermountain States). In many cases, however, only the leaders and more favored members reap the financial rewards. Many fundamentalist groups practice, to some degree or another, a communal form of living called "The United Order" in which all personal assets are dedicated to the Fundamentalist group, and the group leadership exercises varying degrees of control or authority over the money and property of individual members. In some cases, the leadership's authority is absolute.
Mormon fundamentalists believe that their difficult lifestyle and living plural marriage is the way to please God, and that Heaven (and godhood) is attained through living the doctrine of plural marriage. Most fundamentalists are zealous for God, but their zeal is without knowledge.
Grace or Law
Most people living in fundamentalist groups have either never heard of, or have no biblical concept of God’s Grace. For them, salvation is attained through living their laws and regulations and through obedience to their doctrines and leaders - a higher degree of celestial glory is given to those who live plural marriage. Men who live plural marriage become gods and their wives become their goddesses sharing their husband in a polygamous union throughout eternity.
Many Mormon fundamentalist groups have a tight leadership hierarchy in place over their members. They maintain a secure hold on information that they allow or disallow their members to read. The advent of the Internet, however, means that information can be accessed without having a telltale book or magazine lying around. We are therefore eager to maintain this web page to help get the message out to them that living plural marriage is not God’s method of salvation.
And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood--if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then he is justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else. And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified. (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132:61, 62)
Because of the nature of their private and often secretive lifestyle, many Mormon fundamentalist communities are generally closed to most outsiders. In some groups, this privacy and isolation appears to contribute to elevated degrees of abuse--physical, mental and sexual. This abuse is most often perpetrated on the children and women.
In fact, in a few groups, sexual abuse and incest are practically institutionalized, and used for procuring their celestial harem. When children live with these practices from birth, it is extremely difficult for them to comprehend the idea that what they have lived and learned is not true. They may not even know enough to consider it "abuse" because they have no other lifestyle to compare it to. The intense mind control, thought-control and brainwashing assures leaders that their people will stay.
A Shield & Refuge Ministry's Mission
While we are especially concerned about those individuals and groups who live under threat of violence and abuse, we believe that ALL Mormon fundamentalists (and indeed all people!) need to know the truth of Jesus Christ, and the message of salvation entirely by grace, through Him alone.
We will assist those seeking to leave dangerous circumstances, but we desire to reach out to all members in the love of Jesus, to share with them the Truth that can set them free--not just of the bondage of a particular situation, but also the spiritual bondage that entraps anyone who holds to the doctrines of Mormon fundamentalism.