Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Religious Bigotry Flaring: Blaming Latter-day Saints for FLDS Crimes

I thought we had seen a climax in religious bigotry during the Romney campaign, but we may see new even more intense flare-ups fueled by the FLDS fiasco. Some enemies of the Church are wasting no time in trying to paint the Mormons and the fundamentalists with the same brush, as if the child abuse and other problems among the group are our fault. There are common roots, but they are a separate group fully at odds with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They have departed from us in many ways, similar to how Protestants and Roman Catholics parted during the Reformation (I mean no offense to either group in saying this - I'm just reminding you that Protestants split off from the Catholics). In spite of the theological divide and even warfare between those groups several hundred years ago, they had common roots and many common beliefs, but it would be grossly unfair to blame Lutherans or Catholics, for example, for possible crimes of the other. But to non-Christians, it might be easy to lump all Christians together and unfairly blame innocent parties.

Linking the FLDS group with the Latter-day Saints has been a problem in sloppy reporting and writing for some time, though it's understandable how some journalists with little knowledge of the subject matter can make that mistake. Perhaps it's not always accidental, though. Critics love to group us with the FLDS. For example, John Krakauer's derisive tome, Under the Banner of Heaven, does that. Allen Wyatt explains:
Krakauer says "there are more than thirty thousand FLDS (fundamentalist latter-day saint) polygamists living in Canada, Mexico, and throughout the American West. Some experts estimate there may be as many as one hundred thousand." In his words, "Mormon authorities treat the fundamentalists as they would a crazy uncle--they try to keep the 'polygs' hidden in the attic, safely out of sight, but the fundamentalists always seem to be sneaking out to appear in public at inopportune moments to create unsavory scenes, embarrassing the entire LDS clan." Krakauer deftly establishes a connection between the Church and fundamentalists, so he can color the lot with the same spray paint. (Of course, deftness has never been a synonym for accuracy, but such a distinction would be largely lost on a reader uneducated in LDS history.) Krakauer never does indicate why the LDS Church should accept responsibility for offshoots of the main Church, nor does he indicate what form any supposed responsibility should take. Apparently it is not enough to excommunicate them from the Church and cooperate with law enforcement authorities, where appropriate.
Krakuer also calls for the LDS Church to "do something" about the FLDS group - as if excommunicating, opposing, and cooperating with authorities to deal with actual crimes is not enough. Are we supposed to send in armed troops or something?

Scott Gordon, President of FAIR, recently commented on the vast differences between our Church and the apostate FLDS group in his April 2008 FAIR Journal newsletter. Here is an excerpt:
So where did the FLDS church come from and just how closely connected is it to the LDS church? The FLDS claim that their line of authority starts with Wilford Woodruff, but then their leadership continues as follows:

* Lorin Wolley, excommunicated from the LDS church in 1924.
* Leslie Broadbent, excommunicated from the LDS church in 1929.
* John Barlow, excommunicated from the LDS church in 1923.
* Joseph Musser, excommunicated from the LDS church in 1929.
* Charles Zitting, excommunicated from the LDS church in 1928.
* Leroy Johnson, excommunicated from the LDS church in 1935.
* Rulon Jeffs, excommunicated from the LDS church 1941.

Warren Jeffs, son of Rulon Jeffs, was born in 1956 and has never been a member of the LDS church. Most members of the FLDS church have never been members of the LDS church but are the children or grandchildren of Latter-day Saints who were excommunicated in the 1920s and 1930s.

There are those who say that modern fundamentalists are a reflection of 19th-century Mormonism and that looking at this group is like looking into our past. I reject that claim because there are deep and significant differences between the two groups. Granted, both groups believe in the Book of Mormon and both groups either practice, or have practiced, plural marriage. I'm sure that upon investigation you can find other similarities as well. But the differences between the two groups, both past and present, are great.

We do not isolate ourselves from the communities where we live. Even when geographically isolated, we have always been known for actively engaging the rest of society through missionary travels and encouraging others to visit our communities. Latter-day Saints have always eagerly sought out magazines, newspapers, and books from other parts of the country and world and have strongly encouraged our members to be well-read and acquainted with the events of the world.

While keeping to our standards of modesty, we retain the dress and grooming standards of the cultures where we live.

We strongly encourage education and have a long history of sending LDS men and women to the best colleges and universities in the world, both as students and as educators, and today LDS members average a higher level of education than the general population of the United States and Canada.

http://www.fairlds.org/cgi-bin/site.pl?s331

The FLDS practice the "Law of placing," or assignment of marriages, combined with a high level of control of the membership. This contrasts greatly with the LDS. We have no arranged marriages and the average age for LDS marriages is 23. Throughout LDS history, free agency has been a ruling principle. In 19th century LDS plural marriages women were freely allowed to marry, divorce, and leave the community. My own great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Clark Crouch, was in a plural marriage, and she divorced her husband and left the community with no ramifications. There was no danger of having her children reassigned to anyone else. It was more difficult for men to obtain a divorce, as it was believed that the men should provide economic and social support since there was no state welfare program and women had limited employment opportunities. Kathryn M. Daynes discusses the economic underpinnings of plural marriage in her book titled "More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910."

Some critics try to draw parallels with the FLDS because in the 19th century some LDS women were getting married while still teenagers. While we are sometimes uncomfortable with these younger marriages, a study comparing marriage ages shows that the Latter-day Saints were in line with the general population. Looking at 1850 census data, we find that the national teenage marriage rate was higher than the teenage marriage rate in Utah. And while early Mormons were criticized for the practice of polygamy, there are no known attacks on the church based on the ages of the girls getting married. You can read more information about that here.

http://www.fairlds.org/cgi-bin/site.pl?s332

We had no lost boys like the FLDS church does. Young men were not cast out to create an imbalance of men and women. You can read more on that topic and more on marriage age here

http://www.fairlds.org/cgi-bin/site.pl?s333

Another difference with the FLDS church is their idea that more wives equals a greater chance of exaltation. While our critics like to claim we believed that, Brigham Young stated quite clearly that not everyone would, or should, practice plural marriage. Several members of church leadership--including apostles--were not polygamists. Some of Brigham's more controversial statements, when read in context, seem to use plural marriage as an example to focus on the idea of being willing to follow God rather than whether or not you actually practiced plural marriage. If plural marriage were required for heaven, why did some members of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles, our top leadership group, not practice it?

If you would like to read more about fundamentalist Mormonism, I recommend the book "Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations after the Manifesto" by Brian C. Hales.

http://www.fairlds.org/cgi-bin/site.pl?s334

You can also find more information on the Internet about the FLDS church and other fundamentalist groups here, in Hales' website:

http://www.fairlds.org/cgi-bin/site.pl?s335

There are many differences between the LDS and FLDS churches, and except in very superficial ways, the FLDS church does not look like either the current LDS church nor the LDS church of the 19th century. The LDS church has issued a press release and video highlighting some of the differences between the LDS and FLDS faiths. You can listen to Elder Quentin L. Cook speak on the subject here

http://www.fairlds.org/cgi-bin/site.pl?s336

I am both hopeful and confident that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will continue to become better known, better understood, and better appreciated for the dedication of its members to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Thanks, Scott!

As journalist and especially anti-Mormon critics describe the FLDS group as "Mormon" and even show pictures of the Salt Lake Temple or other Mormon scenes when describing the crazy and frightening behaviors of the FLDS apostates (most of whom have never been LDS), it will be important for us to speak up and explain that those people aren't us and don't represent our values, our beliefs, or our behaviors.

I also suggest you all sign up for the monthly Fair Journal.

17 comments:

Mahonri said...

It should be noted that the majority of Mormon Fundamentalists have no association with are different in many ways from the FLDS.

The majority of them do not believe in arranged marriages, underaged marriages, incest, casting out their young men, or the idea of marriage reassignment.

Many live in normal suburbs and wear modern (if modest) clothing. Many go to public schools, and it is quite common to find university educated professionals among their ranks.

The FLDS (under LeRoy Johnson) disassociated itself Fundamentalists in Salt Lake City (led by Joseph Musser) in the mid 1950s, in part because of his disapproval of arranged and underaged marriages.

I would suggest that those interested in Mormon Fundamentalism should contact Fundamentalists themselves rather than either anti-Mormon-Fundamentalists (such as Brian Hales whose 'history' is full of inaccuracies and bias) or non-Mormons (such as Krakauer).

Anonymous said...

Hearing about LDS and FLDS being lumped into one group has bothered me greatly as of late. Thanks for the post Jeff, and keep up the good work! I have always thought that when journalists lumped us with the FLDS it seemed just weird, like saying "this *renegade* mormon sect...". I mean, in my mind that would be like talking about some local protestant church and referring to it as "this *renegade* catholic sect...". I mean, really, can people *not* see past our initials and realize that this group has done more than just add an 'F' to the front of their name?

Latter-Day James said...

This drives me crazy. This is up there with Mormons having horns. Do people not read? Why can't people think on their own? This is having to do with shoot from the hip media and those that assume what they want.

Another thing. Antis using this to confuse people as to what the truth is should really make you think. Who else tries to confuse you to make you think incorrectly or to mess with your judgment...... besides anon 8:51 in the last post?

Bored in Vernal said...

As a Latter-day Saint, I actually feel there are many close connections to the FLDS. I agree with Mahonri that a few publicized cases should not inform our picture of Mormon Fundamentalists. (I view this as a perfectly valid term for them.) I appreciate the purpose of this post, but we should not lose view of the close connection they have to our early roots.

Anonymous said...

As long as we recognize that our roots with the Fundamentalists are about the same as our roots with Evangelicals. Some common origins, many common beliefs and values, but vast departures.

Dan said...

Mormons are going to have a tough time with this one as the FLDS do represent some of the things that we used to do long ago. To denounce them would be to denounce our past. Do we denounce Joseph Smith and Brigham Young for their many wives? What about the brethren that tried to hide from the law with their multiple wives? Are we going to denounce them?

Or are we going to realize that culturally speaking, The LDS Church and its members have more in common with the FLDS than Baptists?

Kevin said...

I could be wrong about this, but I think a lot of the public, with or without the media's help, thinks that mainstream Mormons often sympathize with FLDS, at least on some level. With the FLDS being in obvious defiance of the law, it becomes all the more appalling. The law is not God, but we all agree to abide by the laws in this country.

Now, this isn't fair, of course, to lump the two groups together and I think Jeff makes important points about distinguishing Mormons from a fringe fundamentalist sect. You're right - it would be equally absurd to associate Lutherans with, say, the KKK.

However, even I noticed a lot of Mormon willingness to defend or sympathize with the FLDS in the wake of the raid. I know many were simply concerned with the issue of child custody, etc. but to the general public, the real issue is, and should be, the propagation of a culture that encourages underage sex and polygamy in defiance of U.S. law. That's the big glaring issue that needs to be addressed and sorted out before custody, as difficult as it may be.

RWW said...

I could be wrong about this, but I think a lot of the public, with or without the media's help, thinks that mainstream Mormons often sympathize with FLDS, at least on some level.

I certainly sympathize with Mormon Fundamentalism, if not with Jeffs' sect. You might be surprised at how many informed members of the LDS Church share that sympathy.

The law is not God, but we all agree to abide by the laws in this country.

Speak for yourself; I never agreed to any such thing.

Kevin said...

RWW,

I presume that you are a citizen of the United States. By living here and continuing to do so, you tacitly acknowledge that you are part of a nation with laws.

Are you arguing that you are not bound by the law like everyone else? Are we free to pick and choose which laws apply to us? We are certainly free to leave the country, but most prefer to work through the governmental system and society to change those things we would like to see changed.

If enough people vote for it and organize behind it, we could legalize polygamy.

I never agreed to outlawing murder, yet I would be rightly imprisoned if I went through with it. What exactly are you saying, RWW? That Mormonism is above the law?

RWW said...

I presume that you are a citizen of the United States.

Correct.

By living here and continuing to do so, you tacitly acknowledge that you are part of a nation with laws.

Nice assertion; care to back it up?

Are you arguing that you are not bound by the law like everyone else?

No, I'm not claiming any special privilege.

Are we free to pick and choose which laws apply to us?

No, there are enforcement agencies, but there is nothing inherently immoral about disobeying a bad law. Our government is long past the point at which, according to the Doctrine and Covenants, we no longer owe it our obedience.

We are certainly free to leave the country...

A nice sentiment, but you don't own the country, and neither does your government. I am free to stay and do as I wish, if I can avoid the men in power.

...most prefer to work through the governmental system and society to change those things we would like to see changed.

I do what I can in that regard, but the results aren't morally binding.

If enough people vote for it and organize behind it, we could legalize polygamy.

That's no concern of mine.

What exactly are you saying, RWW? That Mormonism is above the law?

Meaningless rhetoric. The law is nothing but a tool that has become corrupted with misuse. I am bound by morality, not the arbitrary wishes of scheming men.

Anonymous said...

AoF 12, anyone??

I don't think that's meaningless rhetoric - you certainly seem to be implying that your "morality" at least is superior to the laws of men.

Ryan said...

RWW said:
Our government is long past the point at which, according to the Doctrine and Covenants, we no longer owe it our obedience.

Really? I don't remember reading that verse recently...

What about the Mormon Battalion? The Saints were crossing the plains trying to escape the mob and the governments that tolerated or even supported them. The feds had the audacity to draft 500 men from a group of fleeing exiles, and 500 Mormon men joined the army, to fight for the country that had driven them away, because it was the law. In hindsight we know the money they earned was crucial to the survival of their families, and that an army was waiting to destroy them if they refused, but they only knew they were obeying the law of the land -- corrupt government or no.

I am free to stay and do as I wish, if I can avoid the men in power.

That's a very scary attitude.

Kevin said...

Nice assertion; care to back it up?

So you don't acknowledge that the United States has a Constitution? or laws?

The law is nothing but a tool that has become corrupted with misuse. I am bound by morality, not the arbitrary wishes of scheming men.

It's not meaningless rhetoric. What if your "morality" is different from mine? A Satanic cult might think it completely moral to murder people. I suppose if they can avoid the men in power, they are free to do so.

Since when did Mormonism demand that you be anti-government and unbound to any law?

Ryan said...

Since when did Mormonism demand that you be anti-government and unbound to any law?

It doesn't. For the benefit of those like Kevin who (understandably) may not have read much LDS scripture:

Articles of Faith:
12 We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.


D&C 134:
1 We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.
...
6 We believe that every man should be honored in his station, rulers and magistrates as such, being placed for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the laws all men [should] show respect and deference, as without them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror; human laws being instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations, between man and man; and divine laws given of heaven, prescribing rules on spiritual concerns, for faith and worship, both to be answered by man to his Maker.


At some point sedition and other anti-government behaviors are justified by the abuses of those in power, but my impression is that the bar is pretty high -- we should exhaust *every* other means first.

It's interesting that the LDS Church strictly abides by laws in other countries that prohibit proselyting -- no clandestine missionary operations like some of my Evangelical friends talk about. The result is that governments tend to not see the Church as a threat and open doors. It happened before in the Soviet Bloc, it's happening in China as we speak, and there are even footholds in the Middle East (e.g. BYU Jerusalem Center) that suggest it will happen there some day as well.

RWW said...

Sorry for the delay in responding. It has been a very busy week.

Ryan, I find it interesting that you skipped right over the very verses that set the limits under which we have a duty to obey the government. And this after claiming ignorance of them. Let's fill in some of what you conveniently left out.

D&C 134:
2. We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life...

4. We believe... that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.

5. We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.


I claim the God-given right to break any law that violates my property rights, and I support anyone who breaks a law that seeks to control conscience, even if I personally disagree on religious grounds with the particulars of their actions.

RWW said...

I'm curious to know what people find so "scary" about my "attitude." What are you afraid I'll do, given what I've told you?

Pink Posts said...

Thank you for posting this. I found your blog from doing a google search after receiving an email from my missionary daughter serving in London England telling of 5 hours on Monday of running into people who are so derogatory against the church because of this FLDS fiasco, and I was adding a post to the blog I am doing on her mission and it helped me to explain and understand it a bit more myself. We just all need to hang in there together and stand tall. She said over and over how glad she is to know the truth and to know that God is on their side. All people have to do is look at our young people and the light in their eyes---how can they not see goodness and truth coming from that. I hope my daughter and her companion gave those people they met some food for thought...I hope they know they were there because they chose to be, to give up 18 months or 2 years of their life to help share the message of Jesus Christ...and paying their own way to be there, besides!