The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took steps today to better inform the public about differences between the Salt Lake City-based church and the polygamous group in Texas that calls itself the FLDS.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - whose members are often called "Mormons" - placed a series of video interviews on its web site to illustrate the differences between its own members in Texas and members of the isolated polygamous group.
The Texas Mormons featured on the video interviews include a director of community theater, an orthopedic surgeon, a vice president of a medical manufacturer, a former Houston Oilers quarterback, a news anchor and a young woman with aspirations for medical school.
In addition, the Church made a written appeal this week to the news media to make the important distinctions between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Texas group.
The effort to more clearly distinguish Mormons from the Texas polygamist group follows a survey commissioned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that found a high level of public awareness of stories about the polygamous compound near San Angelo, Texas. Allegations of child abuse led to a raid by the state's Child Protective Services earlier this year. Some 91 percent of respondents had heard or read stories surrounding the religious compound.
However, the survey also found that:
-More than a third of those surveyed (36 percent) erroneously thought that the Texas compound was part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or "Mormon Church" based in Salt Lake City
-6 percent said the two groups were partly related.
-29 percent correctly said the two groups were not connected at all
-29 percent were not sure.
In addition, when asked specifically which religious organization members of the polygamous group belonged to:
-30 percent said "Mormon," "LDS" or "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints"
-14 percent said "FLDS"
-6 percent said "Mormon fundamentalists"
-Nearly half (44 percent) were unsure
Elder Quentin L. Cook, a Church apostle, said the national survey results confirm what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has found in the experience of its members and missionaries in Texas and elsewhere.
"We'd much rather be talking about who we are than who we aren't," Elder Cook said. "While many news reporters have been careful to distinguish between our Church and this small Texas group, it is clear that confusion still remains."
Elder Cook said the issue is an important one for the worldwide Mormon faith.
“Mormons have nothing whatsoever to do with this polygamous sect in Texas,” he said. "The fact is that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially discontinued the practice of polygamy in 1890: 118 years ago. It’s a significant part of our distant past, not of our present.”
"People have the right to worship as they choose, and we aren't interested in attacking someone else's beliefs," Elder Cook said. "At the same time, 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."
Elder Cook said the Church is looking at other ways to better inform the public of the distinctions between the two groups, beginning this week with the Internet video profiles of some of its more than 260,000 members in Texas.
"These members and thousands like them are part of the fabric of Texas and contribute to the warmth and southern hospitality of their communities," Elder Cook said.
On Tuesday, the Church sent letters to the publishers of major national newspapers and magazines, and to the heads of broadcast and cable news networks, asking for their cooperation in making proper distinctions between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the FLDS group.
Polygamy was a part of the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some Church members followed the practice for about a 50-year period until 1890, when it was officially stopped. Any member of the Church practicing polygamy today would lose their Church membership.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contracted with APCO Insight® to conduct the national public opinion survey. The study was completed by telephone among 1,000 adults 18 years of age and older in the continental United States on May 29-31, 2008. The survey was conducted using a random digit sampling method, ensuring that all households in the continental United States had an equal probability of being selected to participate in the survey. The margin of sampling error for a sample of 1,000 adults is ± 3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.