A coalition of polygamous groups is taking issue with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' objections to the term "fundamentalist Mormon."
In a statement issued Wednesday, the group Principle Voices said it strenuously objects to what it calls "efforts to deprive us and others of the freedom to name and describe ourselves by terms of our own choosing."
Last month, the LDS Church appealed to the news media and the public to make the distinction between it and the Fundamentalist LDS Church, whose YFZ Ranch in Texas has been the subject of widespread media attention.
"Mormons have nothing whatsoever to do with this polygamous sect in Texas," said Elder Quentin L. Cook, a member of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve. "The fact is that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially discontinued the practice of polygamy in 1890: 118 years ago. It's a significant part of our distant past, not of our present."
"People have the right to worship as they choose, and we aren't interested in attacking someone else's beliefs," Elder Cook said. "At the same time, we have an obligation to define ourselves rather than be defined by events and incidents that have nothing to do with us. It's obvious we need to do more to help people understand the enormous differences that exist between our Church which is a global faith and these small polygamous groups."
Principle Voices said that the term has been used since the 1930s.
"We are proud of our Mormon heritage," the group said. "Plural marriage is only one of the tenets of our religion, the Gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through Joseph Smith."
Principle Voices is comprised of representatives of the various polygamous sects in Utah and Arizona, including the Bluffdale-based Apostolic United Brethren, the Davis County Cooperative Society, the Work of Jesus Christ in Centennial Park, Ariz., and independent groups.
There are an estimated 37,000 people in Utah and surrounding states who refer to themselves as "fundamentalist Mormons," according to an unofficial census conducted by the group. While most do not practice polygamy, they adhere to doctrine that allows it.
A recent survey commissioned by the LDS Church found that there is confusion about the two groups. The survey said that 36 percent erroneously believed the FLDS Church was part of the LDS Church, while 29 percent correctly said the two groups were not related at all and 29 percent were unsure.
The FLDS Church is legally incorporated as the "Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." The LDS Church excommunicates anyone who is a practicing polygamist today.
In a point-by-point statement published on the LDS Church's Web site, the church noted the differences between the two faiths, including members who "wear regular modern clothing and have contemporary hairstyles."
"Mormons practiced polygamy in 19th century Utah, but it differed in important ways from the way polygamous groups practice it today," the LDS Church said. "A woman could choose to marry or not, and could leave such a relationship. Educational pursuits were valued. Two-thirds of plural marriages involved just two wives."
Similar statements are made by Principle Voices about polygamous groups today."We regret that others would in an attempt to try and distance themselves from fundamentalist Mormons promote misconceptions about them," said Mary Batchelor, the pro-polygamy group's director. "We acknowledge the good the LDS Church does. They remain our fellow Mormons and we their brothers and sisters in the Gospel."