Today thousands of men and women from Canada to Mexico identify themselves as "Mormon Fundamentalists." The vast majority strive to practice plural marriage as they maintain themselves separate from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the "Mormon" Church).
Terms such as "fundamentalist" or "fundamentalism" may be unfamiliar to many Church members even though similar groups may be found attached to all major religions. Such factions are composed of individuals who disagree with their church's current doctrines and policies. Usually they have attempted to resolve the problems (they have identified) by returning to "fundamental" spiritual doctrines which they feel have been ignored by the mother church and its adherents. They may break away from the mother church to form their own religious group or "church."
Concerning the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the term "Mormon Fundamentalist" has been adopted by men and women who have embraced distinct interpretations of teachings which they believe were taught in the "Mormon Church" fundamentally (i.e. in the beginning). They largely reject subsequent counsel received by Church leaders through continuous revelation. These individuals champion their interpretations so fervently that they are willing to be excommunicated or to remain as non-members.
AREAS OF DISAGREEMENT
Plural marriage is not the only area of disagreement between these "Fundamentalists" and Church leaders, though it is admittedly the most visual. Numerous other religious topics constitute areas of disagreement.
Over the years, polygamist authors have printed numerous books and pamphlets defending their beliefs which separate them from the Church. An evaluation of those publications reveals a handful of themes which seem to recur over and over:
Law of Consecration
Missionary Work without Purse or Scrip
Gathering of Israel
Excommunication and their Priesthood Organization
Blacks and the Priesthood
Loss of Revelation
"One Mighty and Strong" (D&C 85:7)
Issues Associated with the Temple
New topics spring up from time to time because many Fundamentalists assume the role of a critic, judging the ongoing work of the Church.
THE "FUNDAMENTALIST MOVEMENT"
Little has been written about the history of "Mormon Fundamentalist movement" even by their own prolific writers. Hence, it is generally poorly understood.
There have always been dissenters in and outside of the Church. Joseph Smith was run out of Kirtland in 1837 by antagonists. In 1844, a different group initiated his martyrdom. Brigham Young encountered many opponents including the Godbeites and others. These groups have little or nothing to do with Mormon Fundamentalists today except that they all share a common bond in that they disagreed (in their respective seasons) with the Church and its leaders over one or more doctrines or practices.
The roots of the fundamental movement may be traced to scattered individuals who would meet together during the 1920s and 1930s. While there were several issues which they would cite to justify their defiance of Church leadership, most of them rejected the Manifesto, believing plural marriage should have been continued. They would congregate in homes and even in open-air settings to discuss their beliefs and share their testimonies. No formal organization or leadership existed until the mid-1930s. Then John Y. Barlow assumed control of a group at Short Creek, Arizona (on the Utah-Arizona border) and Joseph Musser (ostensibly under Barlow's direction) headed other dissenters in northern Utah.
While Barlow was generally respected as the Prophet and senior priesthood leader, it was Musser who effectively united many of the critics of the Church. Through the pages of a periodical entitled Truth (1935-1956), Joseph Musser, compiled and analyzed most of the complaints listed earlier. Many of the people with a quarrel against the Church or its teachings could be found sympathizing with Musser and Truth magazine during that period.
Perhaps the most important teaching advanced by Barlow and Musser involved legitimate priesthood authority to seal eternal marriages, both monogamist and polygamist. Musser was the first to write about this priesthood with its line of authority, offices and presiding council. Priesthood authority was derived through an ordination purportedly given to Lorin C. Woolley in 1886. Musser wrote that its authority was passed down through men who were not members of the Church. They were instead members of an external organization called the "Priesthood." Allegedly, it leaders held a higher apostleship (called "High Priest Apostles" or "Friends") than that held by members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Church. Understandably, Musser asserted that he and Barlow held this higher office which was also superior to even the Church President and First Presidency. Ostensibly, this council of "High Priest Apostles" (or "Friends") was responsible to assure that the practice of polygamy continued on earth, even if it was outside of the Church.
The term "Mormon Fundamentalist" was first applied to these individuals during the 1940s. In many ways, the decade between 1940 and 1950 might be described as the Golden Age of "Mormon Fundamentalism." Major disagreements and confrontation began after the death of John Y. Barlow in 1949. Subsequently, Joseph Musser governed all Fundamentalists for a couple of turbulent years after which a split occurred. The Colorado City, Arizona polygamists were ultimately led by a man named LeRoy Johnson. The Salt Lake City group followed Musser until his death in 1954. Musser was succeeded by Rulon C. Allred. Continued contention among these groups has resulted in further divisions.
An in-depth history of the Mormon Fundamentalist movement has yet to be written. This is unfortunate because contemporary evidence would demonstrate that one cannot create a true Church from scattered dissenters. Their priesthood ordinances would be unauthorized. And their doctrines confusing.
In this publication we attempt to demonstrate a few of the inconsistencies found as fundamental doctrines of the restored gospel contrast current Fundamentalist doctrines.