It Practices What They Preach

And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.
-- Joseph Smith's 1831 revelation on marriage and polygamy as currently published in the mainstream Mormon Church's Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132, Verse 62

The 12 million-strong Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is desperately seeking to disassociate itself from its uncomfortable polygamist underpinnings.

The mainstream Mormon church has been thrust into the spotlight worldwide because of the unlawful flight from justice of polygamist leader Warren Steed Jeffs, and church leaders in Salt Lake City are emphasizing loud and long that they have no connection to the fugitive.

Earlier this month, Jeffs, 50, was placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list for fleeing from Arizona and Utah prosecutors who have filed criminal charges related to his performing so-called spiritual marriages of underage girls to already-married men in his fanatical sect -- the 10,000-member Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints based in Colorado City, Arizona, and adjoining Hildale, Utah.

The FBI's action has generated international interest in the practice of polygamy by the fundamentalist Mormons scattered across the Rocky Mountain West, from Canada to Mexico. In one cable news report, CNN superimposed Jeffs' face in front of the LDS temple in Salt Lake City, giving viewers the impression that Jeffs is a member of the mainstream Church.

"This is not just careless editing, but highly offensive to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," states a May 10 LDS press release posted on the church's Web site. "Warren Jeffs is not and never has been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

The LDS release claimed that the church has no connection to polygamy.

The statement quoted LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley as saying in 1998: "I wish to state categorically that this Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church. Most of them have never been members. They are in violation of the civil law. If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose."

These statements give the clear impression that the LDS does not support any form of polygamy, and that polygamy is not part of current church doctrine.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality is, many mainstream Mormons believe, the LDS would reinstitute polygamy -- which was practiced by members of the official church from the 1830s into the early 20th century -- if it had the legal power.

Jeffs and his band of hard-core polygamists are providing the public with chilling insight into the abuses of the practice, the most alarming of which is the sexual predation of underage girls. That both branches of the Mormon religion share the same polygamist roots is something the LDS leaders would rather not see exposed.

Both the LDS and the FLDS are based on the spiritual "revelations" of Mormon Church founder and prolific polygamist Joseph Smith. Smith's bedrock religious principle is polygamy, which is described in detail in Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

One verse of Section 132 is printed above. Others are directed at Smith's first wife, Emma. She is warned that if she doesn't accept Smith's plural wives, "she shall be destroyed." The admonition to Emma is considered by anti-polygamy activists as a warning to all Mormon women that, if necessary, they must accept polygamy or face hellfire.

The fact that Section 132 remains official Mormon doctrine has been a rallying point for anti-polygamy groups whose leaders bitterly complain that the LDS has provided no support, financial or otherwise, in their efforts to assist women and children who have been victimized by fundamentalist Mormons.

"[LDS] Mormons are trying to present a picture of the traditional family and yet they still have Section 132 in their scripture," notes Vicki Prunty, executive director of the Salt Lake City-based Tapestry Against Polygamy. "They have not denied the belief system that propagates polygamy. Until they do so and treat women as equals, we are going to continue to have the same fallout and abuses."

The LDS has provided little, if any, financial assistance to youth discarded by the polygamists, known as the "Lost Boys," or to desperate mothers who frequently face difficult and expensive legal battles to secure custody of their children.

Instead of providing help to people who, like its members, were brought up on the teachings of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, the LDS do not officially admit that fundamentalist Mormon polygamists even exist.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty