Mormons, of course, know that the church practiced polygamy up until 1890. The revelation commanding polygamy, Doctrine and Covenants section 132, is still a very important one in the church since it also reveals the principle of eternal marriage which remains a central tenet of the church. So, while most Mormons are still comfortable with polygamy as an acceptable, theoretical, eternal practice, they are secretly and sometimes openly relieved that the church abandoned the principle long ago and that they don't have to live it in this life. But, they do understand that in the eternities men will have multiple wives. The men have no problem with this, but many women, my wife included, have no desire to share their husbands in this life or the next one.
Every time Mormon polygamists make the headlines, the mainstream Mormon church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sends out press releases reminding the media that there is no such thing as Mormon fundamentalists or polygamous Mormons and that any Mormons caught practicing polygamy are excommunicated and therefore no longer Mormon. For example, the following new release claims:
Elder Cook said it is very confusing to the public when some media use “Mormon” to describe the Texas-based polygamous group that is currently under investigation for possible incidents of child abuse. He reiterated that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with over 13 million members worldwide, is not connected in any way to sects that practice polygamy.I'm sure Elder Cook wishes this were true, unfortunately it isn't. What is confusing to the media and the public at large is why Elder Cook thinks that a group that follows Joseph Smith, believes in all of the Mormon scriptures and doctrines, and follows the church's 19th century prophets shouldn't be called Mormons. It's not at all clear why the LDS church should get to define who is and isn't Mormon any more than why evangelical Christians should get to decide who is and isn't Christian.
What is also confusing is his claim that the LDS don't practice polygamy. For example, Elder Dallin Oaks, an apostle in the church, is a practicing polygamist and has been open about it. His practice is in compliance with the law because his first wife is dead, but Mormons believe that marriages are eternal and he believes he is still married to his first wife as well as his second wife that he married a year after his first wife's death and looks forward to an eternal life with at least two wives, possibly more if God smiles on him and gives him even more wives in the afterlife.
The church officially stopped practicing polygamy in 1890, but continued to secretly perform polygamous marriages until 1906 when they were caught and had to issue a 2nd Manifesto discontinuing polygamy again. But they never renounced the doctrine of polygamy and the reality is that they simply reformed the practice from a temporal practice to an eternal practice in order to comply with the law.
So, when the Mormon church claims to no longer practice polygamy it is at best a half truth, which is also known in some circles as a lie. When Elder Cook states that the church is "connected in any way to sects that practice polygamy" he is clearly lying because one of his fellow apostles is a polygamist by the church's own definitions.
Now, about those Fundamentalist Mormons or FLDS that the church would prefer that the media not refer to as Mormons. Where did they come from? Well, prior to 1890 the Mormon prophets repeatedly said that polygamy was an eternal principle and that the practice would never be discontinued and that if it ever was then the church would be in apostasy. So, when the church stopped practicing polygamy some members believed that it was evidence that the leadership had apostatized and fallen and so they formed their own offshoots that continued the doctrines and practices originated by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.
It's a little difficult to see how the FLDS are not Mormon. They believe in Joseph Smith, they Book of Mormon, and all of the teachings of the pre-1890 church. They follow the doctrines of the founding prophets of the church and refused to follow fallen leaders into apostasy after the LDS rejected polygamy. In fact, I think that they have a better doctrinal case of being the real Mormons. If they seem bizarre to the apostate, mainstream Mormon church then it is just an indication of how far the LDS church has fallen from what it was prior to its 1890 general apostasy.
What we see with the FLDS are the practical results of the "revelation" of Joseph Smith and its implementation by Brigham Young. Polygamy means that there will be a shortage of brides. The result is strong competition among the males for the most desirable girls. This drives the marriages to occur at younger and younger ages in order to lock up the marriages. The logical extreme for the group is similar to other societies where girls are married as soon as they go through puberty and reach child bearing age. Since the primary objective of marriage is children and raising up a righteous generation for God, it is not unexpected that these girls will start having children and become mothers at an early age. This is their highest calling. This is the case even in the mainstream LDS church where women are discouraged from working outside the home and are encouraged to be stay at home mothers. The main difference is that without polygamy, they don't have the same pressure to marry at very young ages.
The other implication that is not currently getting the press it deserves is the implications of polygamy for the males within the FLDS community. If each righteous male has to have 3 wives in order to be saved, then that means that 2 out of 3 males will be unwed. So what do you do? Well, you cull the herd. You need to go through a process that selects the most righteous 1/3 and you get rid of the rest. In fact the FLDS do exactly that and have cast out thousands of young boys to wander homeless. After being raised in their isolated communities with little education and a profound distrust for non-members they are cast out into a world that they are unprepared to live in. The end result is a culture that systematically produces a stream of homeless boys with severe emotional and social problems.
So, the LDS have deal with the FLDS making the new for continuing on with doctrines that the LDS itself practiced until 1890/1906. And it doesn't like it. Somehow I feel no sympathy for them and hope that many, many more articles are written showing how the two are inextricably linked by their history and doctrines.