Fundamentalist Mormonism: More Diverse Than you Thought

Anne Wilde wrote the chapter on Fundamentalist Mormonism in Hamer/Bringhurst’s book Scattering of the Saints.  I’ve always viewed Fundamentalist Mormons like an embarrassing relative, and I haven’t really wanted to learn much about them.  However, Anne’s chapter was incredibly interesting, and I learned that Fundamentalist Mormonism is much more diverse than I realized.

While the FLDS is the most recognizable “brand”, the largest group of Fundamentalist Mormons are unaffiliated with any group.  According to Wilde, many of these unaffiliated fundamentalists secretly practice polygamy within the LDS church, hold callings, attend LDS temple ceremonies without knowledge of LDS leaders.

Wilde seems to know what she is talking about.  She was secretly the polygamist wife of Ogden Kraut for years, but all her neighbors thought she was simply a divorced mother of 3 who was active in the LDS Church.  Here is an article in USA Today touching on her experiences, and John Dehlin previously interviewed her at Mormon Stories.  She is one of the foremost experts on fundamentalist Mormonism.

From pages 259-260 she says,

The labels of “polygamists” or “polygamist sects” are not completely accurate.  Although all fundamentalists profess a belief in the doctrine, probably fewer than fifty percent are actually practicing plural marriage….this essay will avoid the discussion of other fundamental doctrinal differences and will focus on plural marriage— specifically its modern day history, the diversity of those who endorse its practice, and popular (but mistaken) stereotypes of fundamentalist Mormons.

Most Mormons are familiar with the Manifesto issued in 1890 by Wilford Woodruff which (supposedly) discontinued the practice.  (I plan some future posts looking into this issue in more detail, and Woodruff sent mixed signals.)  Wilde says on page 260,

a significant number of LDS general authorities and church members continued to live plural marriage, even taking new wives after the 1890 Manifesto.10 In fact, not until after the so-called “second Manifesto” issue in 1904 by LDS President Joseph F. Smith, followed by the “third and final manifesto” in 1933 issued by LDS President Heber J. Grant, was Mormonism transformed “from a society that idealized polygamy to one that, with equal commitment, exalts the traditional monogamous home.”11

Foundation of Polygamist Authority

Modern Mormons probably wonder how polygamists claim to have any authority to perform marriages.  In Dehlin’s interview, Wilde made a distinction that the priesthood and the church are not synonymous.  Fundamentalists claim a special revelation was received by John Taylor, 3rd president of the LDS church.  From page 261,

Taylor was under tremendous pressure, both inside and outside the LDS church, to relinquish plural marriage in order to alleviate the pressure what Mormons saw as increasing U.S. government persecution.  While considering signing a compromise, Taylor took the matter up with the Lord, and reportedly received a revelation in September 1886, wherein the Lord made the course of action very clear:

My son John:  You have asked me concerning the New and Everlasting Covenant of marriage]13 and how far it is binding upon my people.  Thus saith the Lord:  All commandments that I give must be obeyed by those calling themselves by my name, unless they are revoked by me or by my authority, and how can I revoke an everlasting covenant[?]…it is more pleasing to me that men should use their free agency in regards to these matters.14

This 1886 revelation and other revelations received by Taylor and Wilford Woodruff during the 1880-1890 decade,15 were intended to give strength and direction to those Saints who were uncertain as to what direction to take regarding the living of plural marriage.

Fundamentalist Mormons believe that at the time of his presidency Taylor realized that the LDS church would shortly give up its practice in order to conform to the laws of the land.  As a consequence, he was instructed to call a few of his brethren and appoint them to keep plural marriage alive as a law of the priesthood.  The brethren called and charge with the commission of keeping plural marriage alive were John W. Woolley, Lorin C. Wolley, Samuel Bateman, George Q. Cannon, and Charles Wilcken.  Joseph F. Smith (later president of the LDS church) was added to this special quorum of seven or “Priesthood Council,” which also included President Taylor.  This is the origin of priesthood authority that most fundamentalist Mormons claim today.  They believe that God provided a way for the eternal principles and ordinances of the gospel to be perpetuated, separate from the LDS church,16 as law of the priesthood or as laws of the gospel.”

Wilde discusses the history of many of these groups.  There does appear to be quite a bit of diversity.  The FLDS are known for their pioneer-era dress, but most polygamists don’t dress or behave oddly.  I’d be curious to learn what other differences in doctrines they have, especially if they have other revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants.  Others have discussed the Second and Third Manifestos, and I plan to discuss those items in the future.  Questions or Comments?


10 comments on “Fundamentalist Mormonism: More Diverse Than you Thought

  1. Well if the its true about John Taylor creating the quorum of 7 to keep the practice alive, then FLDS have as much authority to practice polygamy as the early LDS church did. I think most LDS-influenced folks would fall into one of the following camps:

    1. Joseph concocted polygamy to cover up his affair with Fanny Alger and open the door to additional “sanctioned” unions.

    2. Joseph became a fallen prophet when he instituted the practice of polygamy and this is the reason he was taken from the earth at such a young age.

    3. The Lord instituted polygamy for a season to test the metal of the Saints, and removed the practice when it started to cause more potential harm than good.

    4. Polygamy is commanded of God and has not been taken from the earth since its restoration

  2. Yes, Bishop Rick, I have found this discussion of John Taylor very interesting. Post Manifesto polygamy is very interesting as well, and it does appear that Wilford Woodruff sanctioned some polygamous marriages after 1890. It really wasn’t until Heber J Grant’s 3rd Manifesto in the 1930’s that polygamy was truly eradicated from the church. The 1930’s is when the fundamentalists began to flourish (relatively speaking) in numbers.

    I think most TBM’s would go with option 3 above. RLDS would probably go with #2, perhaps #1. FLDS go with #4 for sure. I’m not sure where I lean–probably a cross between #1 and 3.

  3. I fall somewhere between 1 and 2.
    I don’t believe polygamy was ever a commandment or an eternal covenant.
    The whole concept of polygamy doesn’t work. It is like a pyramid scheme. Only the ones that get in early see any “benefit”. Eventually you run out of women and end up with a Lost Boys scenario. How can that be an eternal covenant or a commandment? It simply doesn’t work.

  4. We are on the same page here Bishop Rick. (I’m willing to tentatively concede #2, though not entirely comfortable with it.)

  5. @Bishop Rick
    Actually, I’d suggest that the Joseph was given polygamy to turn the Mormons into a kinship group (which it did, in the 1960s Mormons were an ethnic group, something that has faded now, but is probably what kept the Church alive from 1890 to 1940) and to inoculate it against assimilation.

    Otherwise, polygamy is a sub-set of the principal that we are all to be sealed together as one family with God.

  6. MH, have you met Anne Wilde? She works at Benchmark Books in Salt Lake. She was at the bookstore the day I purchased the book. She was introduced to me as one of the contributors. You should stop in and meet her if you haven’t already.

  7. that is really interesting sanford. no, I haven’t met anne wilde. when I went to benchmark, I don’t remember seeing any women-just a bunch of tall men (taller then me-which is saying something.) I may have to go see if I can meet her. I did pick up the heber j grant journals, which I will be blogging about in the future.

  8. Ethesis – how did polygamy keep the church alive between 1890-1940? Not quite following you.

  9. My understanding from Anne and others is that the AUB is now somewhat larger than the FLDS Church. I find there’s a general misconception that all Fundamentalist Mormons are members of the FLDS Church, so I’m glad you’ve highlighted the diversity here.

  10. Wow, that’s interesting. I’m sure Warren Jeffs problems have something to do with that. It would be interesting to get a census. I wonder how she gets her numbers.

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