Life after leaving the Mormon Church

Rachel Velamur

Rachel Velamur
February 15
Born and raised in a strict Mormon family. I write about what life was like as a Mormon and what my life is like after leaving.


SEPTEMBER 27, 2012 4:08AM

Who Owns The Term Mormon?

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Polygamy is a touchy subject for many Mormons.  Mention the word polygamy to a faithful Mormon and you will observe an almost universal knee-jerk reaction – an explanation that Mormons do not practice polygamy and that polygamist groups covered in mainstream media are not Mormon.  To counter the image of polygamy, Mormon authorities made an unsuccessful attempt to trademark the term “Mormon”, as an attempt to prevent fundamentalist Mormon groups from using the term.  Members are also instructed to refer to themselves as members of the Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints, LDS for short, as a way of combating the stigma of polygamy associated with the term Mormon, although in an ironic twist, the latest attempt to improve the image of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been an expensive ad campaign titled “I’m A Mormon”

                What I find interesting about this reaction is the fact that polygamy was an integral part of early Mormonism.  Joseph Smith – the founder of the Mormon Church and considered to be a modern-day Prophet, Seer, and Revelator – married an estimated 33 women.  His successor, Brigham Young, had an estimated 55 wives.  The third leader of the Mormon Church, John Taylor, had seven wives.  In 1882, when the U.S. government began cracking down on polygamy in Utah, there was a lot of confusion within the church.  John Taylor – leader of the church at the time - wrote a document in 1886 that fundamentalists argue affirms the permanency of plural marriage.  In 1890 the Mormon president Wilford Woodruff issued a Manifesto disavowing the practice of polygamy.  Polygamy was still practiced in secret, with some Mormons choosing to move to either Canada or Mexico to continue the practice of plural marriage.  Eventually, after much controversy, the President Joseph Fielding Smith issued the Second Manifesto in 1904, which once again disavowed the practice.  

                Fundamentalist Mormons still believe in and practice polygamy.  The difference between fundamentalist Mormons and mainstream Mormons is that fundamentalists do not believe the 1890 Manifesto was a divine revelation.  Instead, they point to the 1886 revelation by John Taylor that re-iterates the permanence of God’s commandments, one of which they argue is the practice of polygamy.  In a nutshell, the only difference between mainstream Mormon and fundamentalist Mormons is the fact that fundamentalist Mormons believe in a literal interpretation of the past Mormon leaders, rather than following the leaders that came after John Taylor.  When Martin Luther split off from the Roman Catholic Church, he did not lose the right to call himself a follower of the Bible and Jesus Christ; neither should fundamentalist Mormons lose the right to call themselves followers of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.  

Furthermore, LDS members do believe polygamy exists in Heaven – they just don’t believe in practicing polygamy on Earth, where the laws of the land prohibit the practice.  Growing up, I was taught that if a man was widowed, he could be sealed in an eternal marriage to another wife.  When he went to Heaven, he would be reunited with all of his wives.  Mormons believe that only married people can gain access to the highest level of Heaven.  We were assured that if we didn’t receive the opportunity to be married in this life, then we would have the opportunity to get married in the next life.  There was, however, no assurance that the celestial marriage would be monogamous. 

This begs the question – what defines the term Mormon?  Are the members of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints the only people who can lay claim to the term Mormon?  Or does this term extend to all the sects that follow the teachings of the early leaders and the Book of Mormon?

Even those who still practice polygamy?

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I am always confussed when I see LDS I think of one of two things...myself DLS and an acid trip LSD.... and then there's Lake Shore Drive LSD...and the original internet source DSL ... let me think....
It is confusing - LDS, LSD, DSL, it's all a jumble. Which is why I usually say Mormon, even though as a youngster I was instructed to say LDS (and many Mormons will correct you on the matter)
if a man was widowed, he could be sealed in an eternal marriage to another wife. When he went to Heaven, he would be reunited with all of his wives. So I know they don't do polyandry (perish the thought!) But if a woman is widowed and remarries, what's her marital status in heaven?

(This all strikes me as so crazy I can't believe I'm even asking the question.)

As to the name, I suppose the mainstream establishment should control its use but people will do what they will do and those fundies seem pretty determined to do what they want.
nerd: If a woman is widowed and remarried, she will be sealed for time (but not eternity) to the second husband.

Although, ironically, about 11 of Joseph Smith's wives had living husbands at the time of their marriage to him. So Joseph Smith was a polyandrist, although that practice stopped with him.
oh man, this is the one topic that makes my stomach flip-flop. I had to deal with the whole "oh, so how many sister-wives do you want to have?" 'silly' questioning for years when I would tell people what I believed. I educated myself on what I thought was the truth (which turns out I think now just to be partial if truthful at all) and so that was my retort. Back when I was in YW, I wasn't overly concerned with modern-day aspects of polygamy, but when I returned back to the Church as an adult and heard about how they believe in it in heaven, and that if it were to be brought back into revelation we'd have to practice it, and I scoffed at that idea one day at church and came under fire for it, my red flags went off. No and thank you. heh.
don't mean to post twice in a row so close together, but it just hit me - the type of nasty, oily, untrustworthy (similar to the feeling I had mentioned that I have towards the Priesthood in my last blog) feeling that I feel as though I'm choking on right now... that's not a feeling that members should have if they're listening to something that's prophecy, in my humble opinion. something is wrong with that.
ig: It's a difficult issue and all of the denial surrounding the matter doesn't help.

You're right - if you get a sick-to-your-stomach feeling about a revelation, it is something you should think very carefully about.