• It may be helpful to read our entry on Fundamentalism along with the information that follows.
• In reading this entry, note that in our perspective Mormonism is – theologically speaking – a cult of Christianity. This is one reason why we make a distinction between Christian fundamentalists and Mormon fundamentalists.
Technically speaking, in terms of the history and sociology of religion, fundamentalism is a term that was generated between approximately 1895 and 1915 to describe some conservative Christian believers in the United States who themselves produced a series of pamphlets—The Fundamentals— as a defensive response to liberal theology. Such fundamentalists were opposed to ‘modernists’. In more popular terms ‘fundamentalist’ has come to be a pejorative term used by mainstream groups when accounting for the opinions of religious or political extremists.
– Source: Douglas J. Davies, An Introduction to Mormonism. Publisher: Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, England. 2003. Page 233
Due to political pressure brought upon the LDS Church by the federal government over the issue of plural marriage, President Wilford Woodruff signed what has come to be known as The Manifesto, or Declaration 1. The Manifesto can be found following section 138 in the Doctrine and Covenants. This document was basically a promise to the United States stating that the LDS Church would submit to the laws of the land and desist from solemnizing plural marriages. The document, signed in 1890, also denied any accusations that the church was encouraging or performing any such marriages.– Source: Bill McKeever, The Polygamy Dilemma, Mormonism Research Ministry
A number of Mormons considered this move to be problematic. After all,
[p]olygamy was, in fact, one of the most sacred credos of Joseph’s church – a tenet important enough to be canonized for the ages as Section 132 of The Doctrine and Convenants, on of Mormonism’s primary scriptural texts.
The revered prophet described plural marriage as part of “the most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on earth” and taught that a man needed at least three wives to attain the “fullness of exaltation” in the afterlife. He warned that God had explicitly commanded that “all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same … and if ye abide not that covenenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.”
– Source: Under The Banner of Heaven, John Krakauer, Doubleday (July 15, 2003), pages 5, 6.
It should be noted that Mormon theology has undergone a number of significant changes throughout the history of the Mormon Church. This is documented in the online book, The Changing World of Mormonism Chapter 9 of this book deals with the Mormon Church’s changes to its doctrine on Polygamy.
Aside from the fact that the Bible does not condone polygamy, Christians see the doctrinal flip-flops of the Mormon Church as further proof that Mormonism is not representative of historic Christianity.
Mainstream Mormons, however, believe that the god they serve continues to provide the leaders of the LDS Church with new revelations – some of which may indeed contradict previous revelations:
Mainstream Mormons hold that Woodruff issued the antipolygamy manifesto as the direct result of a revelation from God, not in an effort to curry favor with the federal government. “A key tenet of our faith is the belief in continuing revelation,” says church spokesman Michael Purdy.
– Source: Two Many Wives Valerie Richardson, Insight on the News. Volume: 17, Issue: 17. May 7, 2001.
Fundamentalist Mormons also believe in continuing revelation, but not at the cost of earlier revelations.
There are dozens of Mormon fundamentalist sects and splinter groups (also including some non-polygamous movements).
The LDS church resents the term. They are not Mormons, headquarters insists. They are not members, and they do not follow the leaders or their dictates, so how can they be Mormons?
But the Mormon Fundamentalists, to call them by the term they and scholars studying them use, do exist. And though they embarass the LDS authorities, they are an awkward part — and by all accounts a growing part — of the Mormon Church’s nineteenth-century legacy that lives on into the new milennium.
The polygamy issue that trailed Mormons into the twentieth century — and still does, owing to the continuing activities of the schismatic Mormon Fundamentalists — did not, could not, disappear instantly with Woodruff’s 1890 Manifesto. Mormon polygamy had been neither an alternative lifestyle nor a counterculture statement; it had been a commitment to the highest divinely revealed ideal. Those practicing the ideal were Mormonism’s elite.
– Source: Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling, Mormon America. HarperSanFrancisco, 1999. P. 57; 86