Mormons have “fundamental” PR problem

April 10, 2008

Warren Jeffs in the dock in St. George, Utah, 21 Sept, 2007/poolThe Mormon faith — or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as it is officially called — has a “fundamental” PR problem.

It may have renounced polygamy over a century ago but the breakaway sects which continue to practice plural marriage are the ones that often catch the public eye, leading to the popular misconception that all Mormon men have, or strive to have, more than one (often underage) wife.

This was driven home to me as investigators late last week swooped on a polygamist compound in a remote part of west Texas in response to an abuse complaint.

The compound belongs to followers of jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs and is linked to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which broke away from the main branch of the faith decades ago.

Over 400 children were yanked from the Texas facility over the course of the weekend and into the early part of this week, providing a riveting spectacle in a dusty corner of the state.

Television footage showed young girls in long, apparently homemade “pioneer dresses” boarding buses. Some who looked to be in their early teens carried infant children. Texas child welfare officials said it was their biggest operation ever.

As all of this was unfolding my wife happened to mention to a friend of hers in South Africa — a friend who is well-educated, a journalist and a devout Christian — that I was covering the story. Her friend’s response?  “Those Mormons, they’re weird. I don’t answer the door when they knock,” she said. My wife said as far as her friend was concerned, Mormons were Mormons and that was that.

Salt Lake Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, 28 May 2007/Lucy NicholsonOf course, the mainstream Mormon church, which claims a worldwide membership of around 13 million, is the one sending missionaries around the globe to knock on doors and spread the faith.

The renegade polygamist sects whose followers number several thousand (some estimates are as high as 40,000 or more) are not knocking on doors in Johannesburg. But the perception is clearly there: Mormons are the funny fellows taking multiple wives and living in isolated retreats in remote patches of America.

In places like Texas, the mainstream Mormon faith — based in Salt Lake City, Utah — has to contend with plenty of suspicion anyway.

Southern Baptists and other evangelicals widely regard Mormonism as an almost sinister cult which is successfully competing for souls among the faithful. They regard Joseph Smith, who founded the faith in New York state in 1830, as a false prophet. Southern Baptists are taught in Sunday School to be wary of that “knock on the door” from Mormon missionaries.

Against this backdrop the last thing the mainstream LDS needs is more bad press stemming from its fundementalist kin. The Texas media is abuzz about the probe and court documents alleging a compound rife with sexual abuse and girls being forced into “spiritual marriage” after reaching puberty.

One also gets the impression that Texas authorities were chomping at the bit to take the place down, given the scale of the operation in response to complaints allegedly made by one person.

But it has all served to reinforce popular stereotypes of the Mormon faith — and that must be causing discomfit in Salt Lake City.


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You hit the nail on the head, concerning the problems for the “official” LDS Church in trying to distinguish ourselves from these secretive fundamentalist groups, who practice polygamy in the name of “Mormons”.

I feel that the reasons for which media and even these groups themselves do so, has much to do with sensationalism. Anything negative that can attach itself to the good word “Mormon” gets attention…

Really, this is shameful. The word Mormon, means “more good”. It is certainly clear, that when using the name Mormon for these reasons – it is not to perpetuate good, but to hope for good, when “bad” is abound!

Thank you for this report, which helps to clarify the continued attempt of the “official” LDS Church, which is GOOD:-)


I have just read all of the remarks above and am so very sorry that our Father’s Children continue to abuse each other. I can find no excuse for this. The two greatest commandments were to Love the Lord with all of our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves. We can differ in our beliefs and still be respectful of each other’s choices and beliefs. I have friends from all different religions and stations in life and have great respect for them as our brothers and sisters. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and have been since I was baptized in 1941 by my father who held and still holds the Melchizedek Priesthood, yes even in heaven. I have lived for many years now and have searched and researched many religions and LDS doctrine as well as Anti-mormon claims. I was very far away from the church at one time in my life and it was during these times that I had made some pretty serious mistakes and even got to the point where I lost the spirit and was not sure of what I believed and I tried to deceive myself by saying I was trying to find the truth. The truth of this matter was that I had always known the truth, I just was not willing to accept it because in doing so I would have to accept responsibilty for what I had done and the sins I had committed. I came to a point in my life when I made a very important decision. I returned to the church and went to my Bishop and told him of the things I had been guilty of and he knelt with me and we prayed together and I cried as if my heart would break and I felt the long lost Holy Ghost return to me and it was as though a light came on in my mind and heart and I realized that I had been walking in complete darkness and was so amazed at how much clearer every thing was to me after receiving this. I knew without any doubt that I had come home and this is where I knew I should be. You can call this a subjective experience or anything else you would like to call it, but nevertheless I knew I had received the truth and I knew that He knew that I had also. You will never be able to convince anyone of the truthfulness of His Gospel by reading books or by listening to others discuss subjects either pro or con. The things of God can only be known through the Spirit of God. The different scriptures can be understood this way as well and only through this method can you understand them. Since God is no respector of persons would He be willing to reveal Himself to the Prophets in Old Testiment times and yet deprive His children to day of these same blessings. He is a just and merciful Father. He loves each of us equally and will give to each of us that which He knows will be best for us at any given time in our lives. Whether any of His children are willing to accept what He has given or will yet give to us is up to each one of us. If we reject it we will be held accountable for this. With Law we are judged by Law but to those who are without law he will not judge them by the law. Those who know the truth and then fight against it will be in dire straits on that great judgement day but those who do not know and understand will not be held accountable for that which they do not know. Members of His church who have chosen to leave the church have this right but those who have been enlighted by the Spirit will be cast out of His presence which is the second death. Once you have received this light and truth you are responsible for what you do with this truth. I pray for those who have left the church and have determined to fight against it because they will someday have to reap the rewards of this. I was almost there and I know the absolute hell that a soul can feel at this time. You can fight against God but you will never prevail. Those who feel that by doing this they serve God will one day realize what they have done. Take care that you do not do this. You see I do know that there was a need for a restoration of all things and that our Father did restore this through the Propeht Joseph Smith whether any one believes this or not. Those who fight against this truth will not prevail any more that many have for 175 years have. You may fight against God’s work but you cannot worlds without end destroy it. I have studied the Bible for many years and have read the Book of Mormon many times. I have read the Pearl of great price and Doctrine and Covenants more than once and studied from them often. And I have read all of the accusations against it by dissentors and those who have their own agendas but none have shaken my faith or belief in His restored Church. Remember one thing if you feel that any church can claim to be the true Church here upon His earth without His sanction you are wrong. Only He can do this and when He declares this before witnesses and there is a law of witnesses, you and I had best listen with our ears and our hearts and not be angry because he has declared this but be grateful that He has and listen to the spirit and let it guide us home.

To Shirl: Funny thing is… the members of the FLDS “feel” the same way you do. (Maybe “funny” is not the right word, strike it and insert “sad”).

Concerning the second death: a believer’s confidence is in Jesus Christ, and in His saving work, and not in the Mormon church. Jesus said, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”

As far as the witnesses you referred to Oliver, Cowdry, David Whitmer, et al., they all changed their testimony over time. But Jesus’ legacy is constant and inalterable, “Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8). I would suggest that there is far more security in Jesus Christ than in the continually changing Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Posted by Michael Webb | Report as abusive

I hope the FLDS can sue the pants off the state of texas.It is criminal to rip those kids away from their parents. That Azar idiot makes me want to throw up with his litany of how “the children are now safe, and we hope to get them to talk to us”, “this is a great day for the children, they now will have a safe life”…what a jerk.

Posted by Shanna | Report as abusive

I was willing to donate to help the children re-unite with their mothers, but found it terribly concerning that the web site was totally one sided (woe is us) and did not allow for input or questions. That made my monetary decision easier in that any group that who begs for help but limits and excludes questions, are totally one sided and therefore I am not willing to donate money to help their families. Sorry – You blew it !

Posted by Marge | Report as abusive

Anyone that says that Polygamists come closer to the teachings of Joseph Smith than the church of Jesus Christ of LDS, is woefully misguided.

Joseph Smith said that, “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.”

Joseph Smith never taught coersion. Joseph Smith never taught rape. Joseph Smith allways taught his followers to abide by the law and to be guided by their respective governments. Joseph Smith did teach polygamy and engaged in polygamy, but the Polygamy of Joseph Smith and that of Warren Jeffs are polar opposites. The polygamy once practiced more than a century ago by the church of Jesus Christ of LDS was an honorable practice commissioned between consenting adults.

The polygamy practiced by Warren Jeffs and the like is a sick twisted perversion that is far from any of Joseph Smith’s teachings. Joseph smith taught “love unfeigned” and the preservation of youthful virtue. He taught friendship and civility.

The things that the self-appointed “prophet” Warren Jeffs teaches us are cruelty, perversion, coersion, rape, destruction of virtue, and filth. The FLDS religion is merely a fascade used to help Jeffs and others try to justify their horrible acts.

Posted by Commander Keen | Report as abusive

I am LDS wife of daughter who has rebellious behavior because she has witness DV between stepfather and I.
I been helping her to forgive him. I am trying my best that I can to keep from being taking away from the juvenile court. Even my husband (stepfather) has been obeying the juvenile restraining order now. Even she is still angry with me that I am still married to him. All I ever wanted is to my own family to be sealed to the temple as husband, wife and child. I am doing this for Christ’s sake.

Posted by Christina | Report as abusive

cool. How about we all actually look at history and stop trying to use the bible as God’s written answer. Wake the fuck up people God didn’t write it. Mormons, Fundamental Christians, Protestants, Catholics, whatever you are stop preaching a policy of exclusive entry into heaven. If Jesus was the only way over half the world’s population would be wrong based simply on their environment and getting the shaft on losing the saved lottery of people who have no historical or conceptual vision of christianity. They can’t relate to it and it has no bearing on their life. I think the fundamental step in building any relationship with God should start with the absence of religion and then go from there. You don’t get saved by believing doctrine and stories from any book. An awareness of self and of religious/spiritual society is much more important than a life of intolerance and evangelical blinders.

Posted by Jebediah | Report as abusive

people are ignorant when they want to be and only care when it is to do with themseleves or if it relates to someone they know or are close to. the problem is the just assume and think they know the truth its like chinese whispers the truth is distorted. also in an argument they should listen to both sides of the agument to get a wider perspective and then decide for themselfs what they want to believe or choose to believe.
Her friend’s response? “Those Mormons, they’re weird. I don’t answer the door when they knock,”
she shouldn’t judge a book by its cover if she doesn’t know she should ask and she shouldn’t be hard of heart just because shes scared of things she doesn’t understand.
i think the fundamentalist suck but people should not just read about these guys and persume that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is like them thats just stupid they need to be media smart and think whats different between these to sects so they don’t get mixed up

Posted by rebecca | Report as abusive