Mormon fundamentalists are receiving renewed scrutiny from law enforcement officials, mainly for their practice of polygamy.
The Washington Post (Aug. 9) reports that a publicized case of a teenager’s “escape” from a polymagmous Mormon fundamentalist group where she claims that she was abused by her father, has put the spotlight on polygamy — illegal in Utah, although still unofficially tolerated. While the Mormons banned polygamous marriages over 100 years ago, breakaway fundamentalist groups have kept the practice alive, often establishing self-sustaining enclaves that critics view as authoritarian cults.
In the firestorm of controversy, even officials have stated that polygamy in Utah has not often been prosecuted because of religious freedom concerns and the difficulty of proving sexual crimes. But the case has spurred Utah officials to vow to move more aggressively against crimes in the polygamous community.
Polygamy is a common practice of most Mormon fundamentalists, but several concerns drive this fragmented subculture, writes D. Michael Quinn in the independent Mormon journal Dialogue (Summer). In a 68-page article, he writes that the approximately 21,000-strong fundamentalist community in the Western U.S., Canada and Northern Mexico (although the estimate has been as high as 60,000) includes long-standing groups, such as the Fundamentalist Church of Colorado City, Ariz., as well as independent practitioners. Quinn found that the few converts to the movement (most are born into these groups) are drawn more by the strict and “deep” Mormon teachings and community of these groups rather than by their polygamous practices.
On the issue of polygamy, Quinn found that fundamentalist marriages are less likely to end in divorce than marriages within the LDS church, and that “plural wives” run the gamut from strictly subservient to feminist. Quinn is optimistic about the fundamentalist future. With their high birth rates, they are “growing exponentially.”
The possibility of the LDS revising its opposition to polygamy in African countries to minister to its many polygamous converts may convince a “significant number” of fundamentalists to return to the LDS church.
(Dialogue, P.O. Box 658, Salt Lake City, UT 84110-0658)