The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is again stressing the differences between its global religion and polygamous sects that it believes are being erroneously linked to it as part of an onslaught of news coverage of the raid on the Fundamentalist LDS Church's ranch in Texas.
Reacting to a pro-polygamy group's statements that criticized the LDS Church for objecting to the use of the term "fundamentalist Mormon," LDS leaders issued another statement Thursday seeking what it termed "proportion and perspective" about the name "Mormon."
"Distinctions matter, especially when a term like Mormon has come to mean a very specific thing to the public. Mormon is commonly used to describe a Mormon temple, Mormon missionaries or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. These images have long been ingrained in the public consciousness," the LDS Church said in its statement. "But when the term Mormon is stretched out of proportion to apply to any group, however large or small, aspiring to establish a church in the tradition of Joseph Smith, only confusion ensues. Reduced to its lowest common denominator, the word Mormon loses its long-established associations among the public, rendering it unrecognizable."
The group Principle Voices, a coalition of polygamous churches, issued a statement Wednesday objecting to what it called "efforts to deprive us and others of the freedom to name and describe ourselves by terms of our own choosing." Principle Voices noted that they share a common background through Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and other early Mormon leaders. They also use the Book of Mormon and other scriptures espoused by the mainstream church.
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.
"We are proud of our Mormon heritage," Principle Voices said. "Plural marriage is only one of the tenets of our religion, the Gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through Joseph Smith."
Principle Voices said its members want to be called "fundamentalist Mormons," something the LDS Church takes issue with pointing out that Lutherans and Methodists don't call themselves "Catholic fundamentalists" and early Christians did not call themselves "reformed Jews."
"The Church does not seek to diminish the religious prerogative of any of these polygamous groups. Rather, it simply urges the use of terminology that clarifies the true identity of each party involved. Ultimately, these groups can define themselves any way they wish as long as they don't distort the well-established identity of a long-standing church," the LDS statement said.
The LDS Church began a public relations campaign in June to promote the distinctions between it and the FLDS after a nationwide survey showed much confusion. The campaign includes Web videos of Mormon faithful in Texas describing their lives and their beliefs. Letters were also sent to news media pointing out the differences between the LDS and the FLDS, noting that the word "Mormon" is a trademarked term. The LDS Church's latest statement zeroes in on the FLDS Church, noting that it was originally called "The Work," "The Priesthood Work" and the "United Effort Plan," before incorporating itself as The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
"To any average observer, it doesn't seem fair or reasonable for a comparatively small religious group to adopt the full name of another well-established church after more than a century and a half," the LDS Church said.
Principle Voices director Mary Batchelor told the Deseret News Thursday she would let the pro-polygamy group's earlier statements speak for themselves. The LDS Church stressed in its statement that it was not attacking or belittling other faiths.
"But it will continue to better inform the public and media about its true identity and encourage its members to speak for themselves," the statement said.
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