New Research Reveals Secrets About Psychology of Polygamous Sects and Their Leaders

A: The Mormons say no, the polygamists often say yes; so it depends on whom you speak to. I would best characterize them as the cousins you never see, never talk to, can't relate to and who live far away. It is clear that fundamentalist LDS sects place great importance in the sacred Mormon texts. But each sect has its own customs, only one of which may be polygamy. I was surprised to learn how little awareness many Mormons have of these sects.

The polygamous sects perpetuate that separation in order to more creatively apply practices according to their own leader's dogma, and the LDS enforces that separation in order to maintain its hard-fought efforts to demonstrate adherence to its own church doctrine and to U.S. law. American laws forbidding polygamy have pushed many such sects to locate beyond the Mexican and Canadian borders, close to isolated stretches of the western United States where they can live in more anonymous communities.

Q: Is it just polygamy that splinters the fundamentalist LDS?

A: No, although that is the most controversial red line for many such new religions, and they really are new religions. They have their own unique prophets, sometimes their own unique scripture, and not surprisingly, unique revelation. Any of these would be an apostasy for which the LDS would end any association.

Even when this is not the case, the Mormon church has, and in 1992 in particular, purged itself of what appear to be elements too fixated on the apocalypse. In that sense it is not the fundamentalists who have rejected Mormonism, it is the Mormon church that has rejected them and therefore sharpened those distinctions.

Like adherents of any religion that confront modernization and the secular world, some Mormons reject what they experience as departures from their traditions. They are drawn even to sects that practice polygamy for reasons that have more to do with the ability to practice in a traditional fashion that they feel the LDS has abandoned.

The research also introduced me to the important role of Joseph Smith's passage in "Doctrines and Covenants," in which he prophesies that "one mighty and strong," a prophet who will rise up and "who will come to set in order the house of God." In the over 160 years since Joseph Smith's murder, many have announced themselves as the "one mighty and strong," with aims to restore and reinvigorate the purity of the church. Some of these folks then start their own sects, because the Church of LDS does not recognize their standing and they have no choice but to proceed excommunicated. Brian David Mitchell was one of those who so declared himself as "one mighty and strong."

Q: That sounds psychotic, doesn't it?

A: Does it? Joseph Smith founded an entire religion now numbering tens of millions having declared himself a prophet and having experienced revelations. Would we declare him psychotic now? I think not.

"One mighty and strong" is not a peculiar notion hatched out of a disturbed mind, but a byproduct of a prophecy from Mormon doctrine. Someone, all Mormons believe, is the "one mighty and strong." Who that is, is a mystery. If one announces that he is the "one mighty and strong," because that reflects what he calls a divine ordination and a matter of spirituality, it's hard to prove it a delusion when one has no communion with God to prove it to be a false belief.

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