10 Jul 2008

Fundamentally, we're Mormon, coalition asserts

Salt Lake Tribune - July 10, 2008

As the LDS Church tries to distance itself, polygamous groups stress their common roots

by Brooke Adams

A coalition that represents fundamentalist Mormons has issued a statement objecting to the LDS Church's effort to deny their claim to a shared heritage.

The Principle Voices Coalition, based in Utah, said its 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."

The statement comes two weeks after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints launched a media campaign to distinguish itself from breakaway sects.

The LDS Church said the education effort intensified after authorities' April raid on a west Texas ranch that is home to members of the FLDS sect. The church reiterated in a June 26 statement "as it has done many times" that it "has nothing whatsoever to do with any groups practicing polygamy."

But a poll conducted by the LDS Church shows confusion persists.

More than a third of those surveyed thought the FLDS sect was part of the Mormon Church based in Salt Lake City.

On Wednesday, LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter reiterated the church's view that "there is no such thing as a Mormon fundamentalist or a Mormon polygamist.

"Regrettably, those who suggest otherwise only add to the confusion we are trying to clear up," Trotter said.

But the coalition objects to attempts
to limit the right of fundamentalists to identify as Mormons.

"Fundamentalist Mormons have been referred to by that name since the 1930s, often by the Church itself," the coalition said. "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 mainstream LDS Church disavowed polygamy in 1890 and 1904 and excommunicates members who engage in or promote the practice.

But it is an "untruth" to say they don't have the same roots, said Ken Driggs, an Atlanta attorney and historian who studies fundamentalist Mormonism. "They are different evolutions of the Joseph Smith tradition," he said.
Smith founded the LDS Church in 1829. Newell Bringhurst and John Hamer, co-editors of Scattering of the Saints: Schism within Mormonism, say there are currently 80 active groups that trace their religious roots to the faith founded by Smith.

The LDS Church has asked that media refer to those who follow the original beliefs set down by Smith as "polygamous sects."

But the coalition said many fundamentalists are not polygamists and do use that term to describe themselves. About one-third of fundamentalist Mormons have plural families.

"We do not feel we have rejected Mormonism in any way," said Mary Batchelor, a co-founder of Principle Voices. She said some, who do not practice polygamy, continue as active LDS Church members.

There are about 37,000 fundamentalist Mormons, most living in the Intermountain West.

Principle Voices also said fundamentalists' diversity in dress, holiday observances and educational attainment was mischaracterized by the LDS Church.

"Fundamentalist Mormons can be found in every level of society and in almost all communities," the coalition said. "They include doctors, teachers and even college professors."
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.

Ivan Nielsen said he declined to sign it because his small group has moved away from the use of "fundamentalist Mormon" in recent years. The term has a negative connotation, he said.

"I'm a Latter-day Saint, that is what I like to say," Nielsen said. "Anybody can call themselves what they want, can't they?"

Other fundamentalists have described their religious beliefs as "pure Mormonism."

John Walsh, a Texas religious studies scholar who testified in April about FLDS beliefs during court proceedings, said fundamentalist Mormons use the LDS Church's original scriptural canon and worship practices.

"The big differences are in daily living, cultural practices," he said, not theology. "If you wrote a book called Mormon Theology, 98 percent would apply to all these groups," Walsh said.

Such schisms are not uncommon in young religious movements, said Sarah Barringer Gordon, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who focuses on religious history and law.

"There are constant breakaways, betrayals, apostasies," Gordon said. "This is what the Puritans tried to do to Anglicism. . . . It is about who gets to erect the fences and where and it is very hard to control language," she said.

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