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Mormon’s have a lot of wives. That’s what always popped into my head when I thought about the religion of Mormonism. Most American’s don’t really know much, if anything, about this religion, even though it’s considered to be “The American Religion” (Bloom). I set out to find the truth about this religion that is becoming so popular yet is surrounded by so much unfamiliarity. Do Mormon’s really still practice polygamy and if not, why is this stereotype so widely associated with this religion?
There are currently more than 13 million Latter-Day Saints worldwide. It is now believed that there areas many Mormons as there are Jews. It has become the fastest growing faith in the Western Hemisphere and it is predicted that Mormonism will be the next major world religion, the first religion to reach that level since Islam. (Krakaeur 1) Mormonism has gone “from near-sect to near-nation”. (Stark 5)
The Mormon religion has grown to huge proportions since it’s conception, but it began as a minor and highly persecuted religion, . The Mormon Church began with the man Joseph Smith Jr. He was born on December 23, 1805 in Vermont. His family frequently traveled and ended up settling in Palmyra, New York. He was part of a large family, they weren’t very educated and were quite poor. Joseph Jr. however was bright and quick witted even though he didn’t have a formal education. His mother was very spiritual and like many people of her time, believed that God was present in the home and that he communicated with people through dreams and visions. Smith grew up in an era of a lot of religious experimentation. There was a great deal of belief in “Black Magic” and crystal gazing. Around the town that Smith grew up in there were a number of Indian burial mounds containing precious gems. People would often try to use the powers of crystalsor “seeing stones” to find such treasure.One day Joseph found what he believed to be a “seeing stone” of his own.He used this stone to charge people money in order to help them find the location of hidden treasure. Though many hired him, he never found any treasure. In 1823 Joseph claimed to be visited by an angel named Moroni who told him of the location of buried sacred texts written on golden plates. In order to obtain them he would have to make annual visits to the hill and eventually marry a woman named Emma, whom he was to bring with him on his visits. After unearthing the plates he used a pair of special spectacles, which were buried with the plates, to read the texts. Smith began the process of translation. One day however Smith lost both the plates and the spectacles. He was given back the gold plates by Moroni and from then on used “a seer stone placed at the bottom of a top hat” to translate the texts. (Worthy 8) His wife Emma served as a scribe. Smith published his translation of these plates, which was titled the book of Mormon and soon began the church known today as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).
From it’s founding the Mormon church was persecuted and chased from city to city. In 1844, the Illinois militia murdered Joseph Smith. Brigham Young, a friend of Smith’s,assumed leadership of the church.In 1857 he lead the Mormons to the state of Utah. It was here thathe established his group as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Under Young the practice of polygamy was carried on. In May 1857, President James Buchanan sent the U.S. army to invade Utah and dismantle Bringham Young’s colony. This event came to be known as the Utah War. Unfortunately these actions neither took Young out of power nor put an end to polygamy. Finally the government threatened them with the Edmunds-Tucker Actwhich outlawed the practice of polygamy and threatened to dismantle the church. Faced with this many of the Saints grudgingly renounced polygamy. Over time however they grew used to it and even looked down on those wishing to practice it. This renouncement of polygamy is what caused a huge growth the number of practicing Mormons.There were those however who refused to give up the practice of polygamy. They fled to different areas including Mexico, Canado, and remote parts of the Western U.S. Those that broke away established what is known as the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS).
There are an estimated 30,000 fundamentalists living in the U.S. and an estimated 100,000 worldwide.Although this is a large number it is less than 1% of all Mormons. The key difference between the Fundamentalists and regular Mormons is the practice of polygamy.Joseph Smith had an estimated 33-48 wives, the youngest of which was 14.He held this practice as one of the key parts of his doctrine, and he said that God commanded him and his followers to take multiple wives. This commandment is written in the Doctrine of the Covenants, which is a collection of revelations that Mormon leaders claim to have been given by God. Though both the fundamentalists and Mormons both believe in this book, Mormons hold many of the earlier revelations, mainly written by Smith and Young, as antiquated and not relevant to them today. Fundamentalists however hold these revelations with the utmost importance and say that the practice of these are vital to ones faith.
The Arizona Stripis a secluded plot of land located at the northern part of Arizona. It is separated from the nearby areas by high mountains.It is in this plot of land where many fundamentalists went to escape persecution. The only major city in this area is named Colorado City. It is inhabited almost exclusively by Mormon Fundamentalists. On July 26, 1953, Arizona governor Howard Pyle sent over 100 police officers and dozens of Arizona national guardsmen on a raid of Colorado city to arrest the polygamists. They made over 122 arrests. 263 children were declared wards of the state. This event made national news; it was even on the front page of the New York Times. The press however sympathized with the polygamists, showing them as law-abiding citizens who were targeted by the state. It was seen as religious persecution and ended up raising support for polygamy. Governer Pyle was subsequently voted out of office and all of the polygamists were released and reunited with their families. (Krakaeur 17)
Because of this event they were left mostly alone until May 1998 when a young girl in northern Arizonamade a call to the police. Shetold officers that after her 16th birthday she was pulled out of school by her father and was forced to marry her uncle. After trying to escape multiple times she was caught and whipped until finally she was able to flee to a nearby gas station to call the police. The father and uncle were arrested and charged with child abuse, incest and unlawful sexual conduct. In April 2000 Thomas Green was charged with bigamy and rape of a child. Green had frequently been on the news,he and his family had received a lot of publicity because of there alternative way of living. He has 32 kids and five wives, he has also had five previous wives who have left him. He has a habit of marrying his stepdaughters, all of whom were younger than 16 when he slept with them. He supports his enormous family with welfare checks. Green told the media thathe seeks publicity because God told him not to hide his family but rather let them be a beacon to others. Although polygamy is illegal, Green, like many other polygamists, escape legal trouble by officially marrying their first wives and “spiritually marrying” the rest. Mike Leavitt, a county attorney saw Green bragging on the news about how he got his 13 year old wife pregnant. Leavitt didn’t see what Green was doing as religious freedom but saw it as statutory rape. Leavitt brought Green to trial but although he was found guilty he was given the minimum sentence of five years to life as well as having to pay$75,000 in fines. (Krakaeur 20-24)
When we think of religious extremists we tend to think of Islamic, however many of the practices carried out by the residents of Colorado City are incredibly extreme. Children and wives are not considered to belong to their fathers and husbands but rather belong to the church. Girl’s are often times given away in marriage as young as 14-16 years of age.Not only are the men that these girls are married to much older than themselves, they are often times somehow related. There are many cases of girls marrying stepfathers, which makes them their own stepmothers. Everyone is taught that complete obedience is the key to God and religious fulfillment. Through generations of polygamy girls have come to accept it as the norm. Those who are unhappy are threatened with spiritual and physical consequences if they try to break away.
Mormons don’t associate with Mormon Fundamentalists, speaking about Mormon fundamentalists on Larry King Live, LDS president Gordon Hinckley said “they have no connection with us whatever. They don’t belong to the church. There are actually no Mormon Fundamentalists”. LDS and FLDS share the same history as well as believing in the same religious texts. Mormons and fundamentalists however couldn’t be more different. The key difference between them is the practice of polygamy. The fundamentalists also believe that Adam is God and that he came down to earth with Eve to begin the human race, after which he continued his rule from heaven. The fundamentalists also don’t allow those of the African American race in church positions. They believe homosexuality to be a heinous crime.
The Mormon’s of today however are much different than this. There are a lot of similarities between Mormons and Christians. Mormons read and believe the bible.They believe that Jesus Christ is our savior and that he died and was resurrected, thenascended to heaven. Mormons are different from Christians however believing in the words written in the book of Mormon. The book of Mormon is a story of Jesus’ visit to North America after his resurrection. He visits a group of Israelites who traveled to North America to set up their own society. Mormonsare dissimilar to Christians believing that the afterlife has three degrees of glory, each level containing a different group of believers according to their faith. They also believe that hell is a holding place for the wicked until Jesus returns. Mormonism also conflicts with Christianity claiming that God didn’t create the world from nothing, but instead he used the matter that was already present to create the world.
There’s a lot of confusion between Mormon’s and their fundamentalist brother’s. Even though they share the same beginnings these religions have moved very far apart. It’s important to be well informed, especially for those of us who are Christian’s and wish to carry out God’s message to other’s. The more we know about the beliefs of those around us the more well equipped we are to communicate with them. It’s important that we don’t just think of Mormonism as a strange religion that still practices plural marriage, but instead we think of them as people not too different from ourselves.
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