Monday, February 5, 2007

Scholarly usage

Some scholars, such as J. Gordon Melton, in his Encyclopedia of American Religion, subdivide the Mormons into Utah Mormons and Missouri Mormons.

In this scheme, the Utah Mormon group includes all the organizations descending from those Mormons who followed Brigham Young to what is now Utah. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is by far the largest of these groups, and the only group to initially reside in Utah. The Missouri Mormons group includes those Mormons who did not travel to Utah, and the organizations formed from them — the Community of Christ, Church of Christ (Temple Lot), Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, etc.

In its October Conference of 1890, the LDS Church declared that it would discontinue the practice of plural marriage. The policy was accepted by unanimous vote of those in attendance. Nearly 20 years later, however, individuals surfaced who said that polygamy was a “fundamental” belief of Mormonism and could not be discarded. They formed several small congregations and communities advocating the necessity of polygamy and other doctrinal differences with the LDS Church. While these smaller groups have memberships in the hundreds or thousands, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now reports a worldwide membership of over 12.5 million [1]. Due to heavy media focus on these fractional bodies, however, misidentification of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with these polygamous groups is not uncommon. These groups include the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Kingston clan, the True & Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days and a few others. Most of these groups have headquarters in Utah, with communities in Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, British Columbia, Alberta, Mexico and Great Britain. Additionally, several dozen "fundamentalists" claim affiliation with no group other than their own family.

The terms "Utah Mormon" and "Missouri Mormon" are problematic because the majority of each of these branches' members no longer live in either of these states. Although a majority of Utahns are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the LDS Church has a large membership in other states, most notably Arizona, California, Idaho and Nevada, and the majority of the church's membership today resides outside of the United States. Nor are all "Missouri Mormons" based in Missouri. Notable exceptions include the Pennsylvania-based Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite) which considers Sidney Rigdon Joseph Smith's rightful successor and the Wisconsin-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite) which considers James J. Strang Smith's rightful successor.

Addressing some of the limitations of the Utah/Missouri designations, some historians have now coined the terms Rocky Mountain Saints and Prairie Saints to rename the "Utah" and "Missouri" branches of the movement. These new terms have begun to gain a following among historians today, but similar to the above mentioned titles, they are not of common usage among the majority of those who call themselves "Mormons."

Additionally, "Utah Mormon" is often used as a derisive term among the LDS themselves. A "Utah Mormon" is one who outwardly lives every tenet of the faith without maintaining a deep spiritual conviction.