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The LDS Restorationist movement, including Mormon Churches

Current practice of Polygyny


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Terminology:

The media generally refer to plural marriages among LDS Restorationist denominations and sects as "polygamy." However, their current practice is limited to polygyny: the marriage of one man and two or more women. Thus, polygyny is the more precise term to use when discussing the current situation.

However, a form of polyandry was practiced in Joseph Smith's original church, the Church of Jesus Christ, which he founded in 1830. Smith was married to dozens of women, thus forming many polygynous unions. However, he was also married to between eight and eleven women who were already married to other husbands. His relationships with those women was not polyandry in the normal sense of the term. His unions were a celestial marriages (a.k.a. eternal marriage or sealing), while the women's marriages to their existing husbands were civil marriages. An article by Mormon historian Samuel Katich states:

"The nature of the 'marriages,' or eternal bonds, with Joseph had little effect during the mortal lives of these women. Similarly, the civil marriages of these women to their earthly husbands will have had little effect in the immortal lives that were to come for them.

Respected historians have correctly noted that due to the fact 'celestial marriage transcends this world, it was possible for a person to be married to one spouse for
this world and sealed to a different spouse for eternity'."

In addition, celestial marriage could be 'performed between two living persons one or both of whom had living spouses. Such a marriage, however, had no binding effect during their lifetimes on the two people who entered into it. It simply meant that they would be united in the world to come'." 8


Polygyny today:

Many small faith groups broke away from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- the LDS Church -- generally because of the church's "Great Accommodation" of 1890 which ordered the suspension of new polygyny marriages for an indefinite period. These groups are generally referred to in the media as "fundamentalist Mormons." They adhere to the original teachings of the Church as taught by its founder Joseph Smith. An important part of Mormon belief during the 19th century was that a man had to have at least three wives in order the reach the highest of the three levels of Heaven and eventually become a god in charge of his own universe. These groups regard polygyny as a main principle of their faith. Many consider their faith group to be the only "true" Mormon church.

The LDS church takes a different view. They regard the LDS to be the only "true" church; they believe that the schismatics have no right to call themselves "Mormons." In a response to an article in the Toronto Star for 2002-FEB-6, the LDS leadership wrote:

"There is no such thing as a "fundamentalist" Mormon. Mormon is a common name for a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church discontinued polygamy more than a century ago. No members of the Church today can enter into polygamy without being excommunicated. Polygamist groups in Utah, other parts of the American West and elsewhere have nothing whatsoever to do with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." 1

The LDS church placed an essay on the Internet that states:

  • " 'Mormons' have nothing whatsoever to do with the Texas sect known as 'FLDS,' or with any other polygamous group."
  • "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn't allow anyone practicing polygamy to be a member."
  • "Polygamy was part of our past, for about 50 years in the 19th century. But it is not part of our present. Polygamy was officially discontinued in 1890  --  118 years ago." 10

These statements appears to be partly in error. There is considerable evidence that the LDS church solemnized new polygynous marriages in the early 20th century, some two decades after the "Great Accommodation." Also, they only suspended polygynous marriages at that time; they did not discontinue them.

We will use the term "fundamentalist Mormons" here because:

  • This is the term by which the groups refer to themselves.
  • It is the term most commonly used in the media.
  • The groups are certainly Fundamentalist in belief when compared to the LDS church, which is gradually evolving towards an Evangelical belief system.
  • The individuals and groups involved consider themselves to be Mormons. They can trace their origins back directly to the original Church of Christ established by Joseph Smith in 1830 in the same way that members of the LDS Church can. Many believe that theirs is the "true" Mormon church.

Polygyny in the U.S. among various Christian groups:

  • LDS Restorationist groups: Some fundamentalist Mormon groups in Utah, Arizona, and other states in the western U.S. still engage in polygyny. They have been excommunicated from the main Mormon church -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- because of this practice.
    • According to the Attorney General of Utah, about 40,000 Fundamentalist Mormons still live according to "the principle" of polygyny as established by Joseph Smith. 2
    • According to Principle Voices of Polygamy, a group which promotes plural marriage, there are about 37,000 people live in polygynous families in the western U.S. Of this number, on the order of 10,000 live in the border-straddling twin cities of Hildale, UT, and Colorado City, AZ. 3

About half are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). The FLDS' main concentration is located in Colorado City and Hildale. They also live in every county throughout Utah, and in many other western states. 4 For the past five decades both the states of Arizona and Utah had largely ignored the group's practices. There are signs in 2005 and 2006 that this is about to change.

The current FLDS President Warren Jeffs (1956-) expelled 21 men from the church in 2004-JAN  The church allegedly gave the wives a "release" from their husbands -- i.e. a divorce. Most were allegedly "assigned" to other men. According to one woman involved in this process, Laura Johnson "one of those women has been moved six times" to live with different men. Laura chose to stay with her husband; she and her family are now considered outcasts in the community. 5

There are reports that the wives are required to apply for government welfare as soon as they become mothers, and that members are brought up to believe that they have to follow the demands of their leader or risk losing their eternal salvation.

One basic problems with the FLDS and similar groups is that roughly equal numbers of boys and girls are born. However, a large surplus of teenage girls are needed to supply the necessary number of wives to the men of the community. The solution is often to expel boys from the community when they reach their teen years. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, has had boys in his office crying to see their mothers. He said:

"It's a mathematical thing. If you are marrying all these girls to one man, what do you do with all the boys?...People have said to me: 'Why don't you prosecute the parents?' But the kids don't want their parents prosecuted; they want us to get the No. 1 bad guy � Warren Jeffs. He is chiefly responsible for kicking out these boys." 9

About 100 "Lost Boys" each year are reported as having ben driven from the Colorado City/Hildale area between 2001 and 2005 . One is Gideon Barlow, 17. The stated reason for his banishing was that he had worn short-sleeved shirts, listened to CDs and had a girlfriend. Others were ejected for going to the movies, watching TV or staying out past curfew. Some have allegedly been given only two hours notice before being driven to a nearby town -- like St. George or Hurricane in Utah -- where they are abandoned with few resources. Barlow tried to return and visit his mother on Mother's Day but was told to stay away.  "I am dead to her now," he said. Dan Fischer was a FLDS member and is now a dentist practicing near Salt Lake City. UT. He helps organize housing and education for the exiled teens. He said:

"There is a virtual Taliban down there. You tell people this stuff happens and they don't believe it. [The exodus] has been far more dramatic in the last year." 9

  • Other Christian groups:
    • There are a few polygamous Christian sects and families in the U.S. who call themselves "Christian polygamists" and are not part of the LDS Restorationist movement. They generally advocate a strong patriarchal family structure as do the Mormon polygynists.
    • Another non-Mormon group, "Liberated Christians," in Phoenix, AZ advocates voluntary polygamy (polygyny or polyandry or other forms of plural marriages) and the equality of the spouses. 6

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Mormon practice of polygyny in Canada:

Polygyny has been against the law in the western territories of Canada since 1878. "...the prohibition was specifically reaffirmed in a new statute after the Mormons established settlements in what�s now Alberta." 7 However, in 1947, a Fundamentalist Mormon group founded the town of Bountiful in southeastern British Columbia, close to the U.S. border. It currently has a population of about 1,000; its residents practice polygyny with minimal interference by the provincial or federal government.  More details


References used:

  1. An essay in the "Mistakes in the News" section of the official LDS Church's web site. See: http://www.lds.org/
  2. D.M. Quinn, "LDS Church authority and new plural marriages, 1890 - 1904," at: http://www.lds-mormon.com/
  3. "Multiple intimate relationships: A summary of Liberated Christians' views," at: http://www.libchrist.com/
  4. Toni Heinzl, "Former Fort Worth couple indicted in child sex case," Star-Telegram, Fort Worth TX, 2003-SEP-19, at: http://www.dfw.com/
  5. "Calls for action: USA: Polygamy related abuses in Utah," Women living under Muslim laws (WLUML), 2002-FEB-15, at: http://wluml.org/
  6. "Country poised to decriminalize bigamy," Reuters, 2001-JUN-12.
  7. Dan Harrie, "A GOP lawmaker says polygamists deserve an apology," Salt Lake, undated, at: http://www.polygamyinfo.com/
  8. Samuel Katich, "A tale of two marriage systems: Perspectives on polyandry and Joseph Smith," at: http://www.fairlds.org/  This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from:
  9. David Kelly,"Polygamy's 'Lost Boys' expelled from only life they knew. Sect's outcasts are casualties of marriage practice." Los Angeles Times, 2005-JUN-19, at: http://www.boston.com/
  10. "Do Mormons Practice Polygamy? NO. Mormons and polygamy --here are the facts:," Intellectual Reserve, 2008, at: http://www.mormonsandpolygamy.org/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-AUG-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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