First, a couple of quick questions to ask yourself, just to prime the discussion:
- How is the Texas compound (recently raided) related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or "Mormon Church") based in Salt Lake City?
- To which religious organization do members of the polygamous group belong?
Take your time here and actually figure out what you know (and don’t know) off the top of your head.
If you aren’t sure how to answer, you aren’t alone. And if you are sure, you might want to double-check. According to a press release from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, these same questions received the following response when posed to 1,000 U.S. adults (91% of whom had heard or read stories surrounding the religious compound):
- Relationship to Mormon Church:
- * 36% – The Texas compound is part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or "Mormon Church" based in Salt Lake City.
- * 29% – The two groups are not connected at all.
- * 29% – Not sure.
- * 6% – The two groups are partly related.
- Religious affiliation:
- * 44% – Not sure
- * 30% – Mormon, LDS or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- * 14% – FLDS
- * 6% – Mormon fundamentalists
If you’re like me, your initial reaction to these results was to explain it away as an education thing. Anyone who went to college, traveled, read up on current events regularly, etc. would know the difference, right? I mean, consider the contrast:
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. LDS Church, Mormon Church, or Mormons_) – a worldwide organization with 13 million members (whom the casual observer couldn’t tell from Adam), famous for their missionary programChurch%29 and humanitarian efforts (over a billion in aid since 1985)
- The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (a.k.a. FLDS Church_) – an organization of 10 thousand who dress distinctly, practice polygamy, and often live in separate communities
Since the raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas brought the FLDS Church into the limelight, the subject has come up in various discussions with coworkers (all well-educated), and I’m flabbergasted so many still equate "Mormon" with people who dress like Quakers, have multiple wives, and follow the incarcerated Warren Jeffs. (My favorite part is hearing them say, "_You are Mormon?" after which I think, "Crazy, I know.")
Of course, some of the blame has to rest on the media. Once this YFZ Ranch raid story broke, the LDS Church started receiving requests from media outlets to feature pictures of the Salt Lake Temple (probably the most recognizable Mormon image) next to their writeups. Some (mostly international outlets) actually went to press with it. Seriously, people. It’s your job to inform people and you’re that misguided? No wonder the LDS Church has gone to the extent of writing a letter to the media and posting videos about Texas Mormons on their YouTube channel. With people like this around, and the apparently widespread misinformation ont he subject, who can blame them?
As Elder Cook states in one of the LDS Church press releases, "We have an obligation to define ourselves rather than be defined by events and incidents that have nothing to do with us. It’s obvious we need to do more to help people understand the enormous differences that exist between our Church which is a global faith and these small polygamous groups." Hopefully people will start to get it.