Doctrine: Latter-day Saint schisms hinge on priesthood, salvation

Southern Utah University Journal/November 5, 2007

This is the second in a three-part series, published on succeeding Mondays, about Mormonism and fundamentalism in southern Utah.

For fundamentalists, plural marriage is essential to receive eternal life, hence the multiple schisms in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to perpetuate the principle.

About 30 groups, not counting independent families, practice plural marriage under the banner of Mormonism, said Marianne Watson, a fundamentalist and self-employed historian.

"Mormon" and "Mormonism" describe a variety of groups connected to Joseph Smith, Jr. and the church he founded in 1830: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Richard Christensen, Cedar City LDS Institute of Religion director, said it is a nationwide misconception for the terms "fundamentalist, Mormon and polygamist" to "paint all groups" beneath the umbrella of Mormonism.

"There is no such thing as a 'Mormon Fundamentalist,'" said Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in an October 1998 general conference address. "It is a contradiction to use the two words together."

Additionally, "not all fundamentalists are polygamists by any stretch of observation," Watson said.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is one of the largest of the splinter groups, Watson, a member of the Allred Group, said. Other groups include Centennial Park, the Kingston Group, the Peterson Group and the Apostolic United Brethren, or Allred Group.

The Allred Group is probably the largest fundamentalist group in the Cedar City area, she said.

Collectively, there are about 20,000 fundamentalist adherents, she said.

While the doctrines and practices of fundamentalist groups are varied, the point of separation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is generally recognized as beginning with the church's manifesto discontinuing the practice of plural marriage in 1890.

The Manifesto Era

Wilford Woodruff, third LDS president, issued the Manifesto discontinuing polygamy.

However, some fundamentalists see a problem in Woodruff's calling an end to plural marriage.

"Why did they abandon it? Because they wanted to join the U.S.," said James Parsons, a 39-year-old Cedar City resident and member of the Allred Group.

Polygamy was, and is, against the law.

"Joseph Smith lived the practice of plural marriage when it was against the law of the land," said a Cedar City Allred Group leader on condition of anonymity.

Dallin H. Oaks, an LDS apostle, said in an interview transcript from the PBS documentary The Mormons, that three elements were involved during the Manifesto era: the abandonment of the "Mormon communal economy, the abandonment of separate Mormon political parties, and the abandonment of polygamy."

"All those came about because of, or triggered by, the Manifesto," he said. "It's a result of a Mormon compromise - and the Mormons retained their religious freedom. They won the right to propagate without persecution. They preserved their unique doctrines and so on. Those (remain) with us today, but other things that were essential to and a cause of earlier persecution were abandoned in that compromise as we entered the 20th century."

While the Manifesto's declaration was an immense relief to those not practicing plural marriage, Oaks said it became a burden for those who were practicing "because the church no longer advocated or permitted what was a central purpose and identity of their marriages."

"And so there was a generation, a very difficult generation, following the Manifesto … " he said in the PBS interview. "But I guess for every Mormon there was the problem of, 'If it was right then, why is it not right now?' That was a burden that fell on President Joseph F. Smith to explain, and that's where the essential Mormon loyalty to a prophet was tested and used."

Joseph F. Smith, sixth church president, continued plural marriage in Mexico and Canada, the Allred Group leader said.

"(Joseph F.) Smith must have felt he was holding the last of several losing hands in a high-stakes game begun in 1890," said historian Kathleen Flake in her book The Politics of American Religious Identity. "None of his earlier strategies had worked, and the only card left in the deck was schism."

The changes declared in the Manifesto came into effect fully under Joseph F. Smith, Oaks said.

The change saw the excommunication of two apostles who refused to give up the practice of plural marriage, according to Latter-day Saint history.

"Modern Mormonism's capacity to adapt to its social environment has been explained in terms of its belief in continuing revelation," according to Flake's book. "Removing a part of religious conviction, even by revelation, can easily remove the whole of it as well as confidence in the revelatory process itself. This is especially true where the part is thoroughly integrated into the whole, as was plural marriage for the Latter-day Saints."

The change resulted in schism.

Members of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints believe Woodruff lost his priesthood authority in issuing the Manifesto, said the Allred Group leader.

"That is false doctrine," he said.

Woodruff simply put plural marriage back in the position it had been in Nauvoo; under the responsibility of the priesthood rather than the responsibility of the church, the leader said in affirmation of the Allred Group's position.

Plural Marriage

Hinckley, 15th LDS president, reiterated the church's official stance on polygamy at a general conference in October 1998:

"I wish to state categorically that this church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy," he said. "They are not members of this church. Most of them have never been members … If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the church can impose.

"More than a century ago God clearly revealed unto his prophet Wilford Woodruff that the practice of plural marriage should be discontinued, which means that it is now against the law of God," he added. "Even in countries where civil or religious law allows polygamy, the church teaches that marriage must be monogamous and does not accept into its membership those practicing plural marriage."

Among fundamentalists, the practice of plural marriage remains varied.

The FLDS group performs arranged marriages, Watson said. Consequently, most FLDS males over 30-years-old practice polygamy.

In the Allred Group, marriages are not arranged and wives must consent, she said.

"It's a rare day when they don't," she added.

The idea that women practice plural marriage "for the spirituality and men do it for the sex - that is not true," the Allred Group leader said. "She has the say. She is a queen that rules under her husband over her household."

Parsons said anyone who does it just because they want more women is missing the point.

"I still think anyone who does it on those grounds is insane," he said.

Instead of following what is acceptable in the world, with having a mistress and then dumping her, plural marriage makes men responsible for their actions, Parsons said.

"That responsibility helps you grow into the priesthood ... to attain the fullness of the priesthood," he said.

Parsons has one wife and the Allred Group leader has multiple wives, they said.

A principal reason for the secrecy surrounding fundamentalism is the illegality of polygamy, Parsons said.

"We don't hide it, but we don't wear it on our sleeves," he said.

The Utah attorney general "has made it clear that he's not interested in prosecuting consenting adults," Watson said.

Since the 1950s polygamy laws have not been frequently enforced except when child abuse, domestic violence and fraud have been involved, according to The Primer: Helping Victims of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse in Polygamous Communities, produced by the Utah and Arizona attorneys general offices.

"I don't break the law except with plural marriage," the Allred Group leader said. "Only one thing in which I feel comfortable in breaking state law is with celestial plural marriage."

In the 1998 general conference address, Hinckley noted that polygamists are in violation of more than civil law.

"Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this church," he said. "An article of our faith is binding upon us. It states, 'We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.'"

Parsons said he feels the laws of God can supersede the law of the land.

"I believe we should follow laws of the government as far as they concur with the laws of God," he said.

Christensen said a major misconception about polygamy is that "people equate the practice of plural marriage in the early days of the church and what is practiced today."

Early church members practicing polygamy didn't have child brides, he said.

Also, "it wasn't as widespread in the early church," he said. "A recommend was required from a priesthood leader. A lot of people wanted to practice it and were turned down."

Many early church members did not practice plural marriage, Oaks said in the PBS interview.

"It was a minority, actually," he said.

Oaks added that he had great sympathy for those who currently practice plural marriage.

"But I don't see any common ground of doctrine between them and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because revelation is the bedrock of our faith, we follow the prophet and sexual morality is very important to us," he said. "They don't follow the prophet, and they engage in relationships that we deem today (to be immoral as) the Lord has defined the law, and as the law has defined criminal conduct."


While many fundamentalist groups consider The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be apostate, the Allred Group still recognizes the church's validity, Watson said.

"It is the Lord's church, with sufficient priesthood to bear off the kingdom," said the Allred Group leader, who was an LDS seminary teacher when he was converted to fundamentalism in 1967.

"The difference between us and most other groups is that we see ourselves as running parallel, not in opposition to, the church," Watson said. "We do not think of ourselves as a church."

The Allred Group claims its beginnings even before the Manifesto era.

John Taylor, who "shed his blood at Carthage with Joseph … put a mechanism into place in 1886 to preserve plural marriage," a mechanism that wasn't activated until after Joseph F. Smith, the Allred Group leader said.

Various declarations that would have put an end to plural marriage were suggested to Taylor, which set the stage for Taylor's controversial 1886 revelation in which Joseph Smith, Jr. and Jesus Christ visited him, the Allred Group leader said.

The account of the revelation is available in the Fundamentalism in Southern Utah section at

Some fundamentalists believe that in obedience to the revelation, Taylor ordained five men to be apostles, holding the priesthood keys needed to practice plural marriage, even outside the church, the Allred Group leader said.

"The priesthood is the eternal power and authority of God," according to, the official Web site for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "The exercise of priesthood authority in the church is governed by those who hold priesthood keys."

The Allred Group leader said the priesthood keys given by Taylor began to function after Joseph F. Smith and the complete discontinuation of polygamy in the church.

"The function of those keys is to keep alive all of the gospel, because there cannot be another restoration (of the gospel)," he said.

The purpose of the Allred Group or "the priesthood work" is also to take the blame off the church because it had to be divorced from plural marriage, he said.

Where most would understand the Manifesto to mean polygamy would no longer be practiced by Latter-day Saints, fundamentalists understand it as Woodruff setting a distinction between what the church would practice as opposed to what the priesthood, as a separate entity, would practice, the Allred Group leader said.

"It takes those keys to have a fullness," he said. "Without the sealing power of God, you do not have a fullness of the priesthood."

The Allred Group leader said he acknowledges the apparent confusion of separating church and priesthood.

"I know for most members of the church, church and priesthood are inseparable," he said. "But don't tell that to Abraham. Don't tell that to Isaac. Don't tell that to Jacob."

Starting with Heber J. Grant, Joseph F. Smith's successor, the presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have just held the keys of the church - not the fullness of the priesthood, the Allred Group leader said. The sealing keys stayed with the priesthood work.

"You can't administer an ordinance you haven't received yourselves," he said.

Church leaders maintain that all priesthood keys remain in the church.

"All priesthood keys are within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and no keys exist outside the church on earth," said Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Latter-day Saint Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in the February 1993 edition of the Ensign, an official church publication.

Christensen said conferring the priesthood is not done in secret.

"These things are not done in a corner," he said. "It must be recognized and agreed upon by the church."

Christensen said the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as the other members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the governing bodies in the church, hold all the priesthood keys.

"(The church president) holds all the priesthood keys that have been revealed in our time," he said. "God's house is a house of order - he controls that."

The Allred Group leader said that when things are working properly, the "father" priesthood and "mother" church are unified.

"Are things out of order? Yes," he said.

Prior to the millennial reign of Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith, Jr. will return to set the church and the priesthood work in order, he said.

"That is our hope, that's our prayer, that's our promise," he said. "I hope the day soon comes when the priesthood and the church are reunited."

Watson said that while she doesn't see that happening any time in the near future, "we'd like to see (plural marriage) practiced again in the church."

"If that changed it would again have to be by revelation through the president of the church," Christensen said.


Both Latter-day Saints and various fundamentalist groups accept the doctrine detailed in the Doctrine and Covenants, part of the church's canon, concerning the necessity of "celestial marriage" for eternal life, or salvation in the highest degree of God's glory.

What constitutes "celestial marriage" is at the core of the schism.

Latter-day Saints recognize a monogamous temple sealing as the kind of marriage described in the Doctrine and Covenants, according to Latter-day Saint literature. A temple is a sacred place set apart for the highest ordinances of the gospel, accessible only to members who live by a strict moral code.

"It's the beginning of the law," Watson said. "But for the highest degree in the celestial kingdom, there must be a plurality of wives."

The doctrine is drawn from the Journal of Discourses, a collection of sermons by early Latter-day Saint leaders that is not an official publication of the church or accepted as doctrine.

Joseph F. Smith said, according to the Journal of Discourses: "Some people have supposed that the doctrine of plural marriage was a sort of superfluity or non-essential, to the salvation or exaltation of mankind. In other words, some of the saints have said, and believe, that a man with one wife, sealed to him by the authority of the priesthood for time and eternity, will receive an exaltation as great and glorious, if he is faithful, as he possibly could with more than one.

"I want here to enter my solemn protest against this idea, for I know it is false … this is the beginning of the law, not the whole of it," he said. "Therefore, whoever has imagined that he could obtain the fullness of the blessings pertaining to this celestial law, by complying with only a portion of its conditions, has deceived himself. He cannot do it."

Other Beliefs

A host of other beliefs comprise collective fundamentalist doctrines.

The FLDS church is organized under a communal economic system, the Allred Group leader said.

It is also members of the FLDS church who wear rustic clothing, a practice not shared generally by other fundamentalists, including the Allred Group.

The Peterson Group is secretive but does outright missionary work, he said.

The Allred Group does no active missionary work, Parsons said, because the fundamentalist doctrines are for those "seeking something more beyond what the church teaches."

The Allred Group does perform ordinances for the dead, but does not have a temple, he said.

Blacks are not allowed to hold the priesthood, he said.

The Adam-God doctrine, a Journal of Discourses doctrine not accepted by the church that Adam was at least three different men who each had many wives, is another key doctrine for fundamentalists, Parsons said.

Read Monday's edition of the University Journal for the third and final part of the series as the Journal investigates the experience of fundamentalists at SUU and in the community.

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