The LDS Restorationist movement,
including Mormon Churches
Current practice of Polygyny
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'."
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
polygyny as a main principle of their faith. Many consider their faith
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
- 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
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.
- 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.
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
"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."
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:
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
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
- An essay in the "Mistakes in the News" section of the official LDS Church's web site. See:
- D.M. Quinn, "LDS Church authority and new plural marriages, 1890 - 1904," at:
- "Multiple intimate relationships: A summary of Liberated Christians' views," at:
- Toni Heinzl, "Former Fort Worth couple indicted in child sex case," Star-Telegram, Fort Worth TX, 2003-SEP-19, at:
- "Calls for action: USA: Polygamy related abuses in Utah," Women living under Muslim laws (WLUML), 2002-FEB-15, at:
- "Country poised to decriminalize bigamy," Reuters, 2001-JUN-12.
- Dan Harrie, "A GOP lawmaker says polygamists deserve an apology," Salt Lake, undated, at:
- 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:
- 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:
- "Do Mormons Practice Polygamy? NO. Mormons and polygamy --here are the facts:," Intellectual Reserve, 2008, at:
Copyright © 1997 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-AUG-02
Author: B.A. Robinson