If you're not familiar with Mormonism, you might not realize that there's a huge difference between FLDS and LDS. The LDS, or the Latter-Day Saints, comprise the vast majority of Mormons worldwide. While their conservative beliefs may be disquieting to some, they are light years away from the FLDS, or the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints. Fundamentalist Mormons are a small splinter group who practice polygamy.
Aside from the fact that LDS members are not polygamous, there are a number of major differences between the two groups. For example, their leadership. FLDS leader Warren Jeffs is serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting minors among other things and the LDS leader Thomas Monson just turned 90. Another difference? The LDS supports interracial marriage, while the FLDS finds it to be unacceptable and is therefore labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The LDS church does not want to be confused with the cultish FLDS church for reasons that are quite clear once you dive into all the serious differences between them.
The FLDS Has A Single Leader And He Is In Prison
Warren Jeffs, the leader of the FLDS church, was arrested in 2011 for sexually abusing children. He "married" a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old girl. He then had a child with the 15-year-old, and was caught on tape engaging in sexual acts with the 12-year-old. For these crimes, he is serving a life sentence in prison.
At least 11 other FLDS men faced similar charges. Despite the serious nature of his crimes, and despite his physical confinement to a prison in Texas, many of Jeffs's followers remain devoted to him. While in prison, Jeffs wrote a book called Jesus Christ Message to All Nations, which he claims includes messages straight from Jesus Christ.The LDS is currently run by Thomas S. Monson, who has never been accused of anything similar.
The FLDS Is Polygamist, The LDS Is Not
While many people assume that all Mormons are into polygamy, this is actually untrue. Polygamy was originally a mainstream part of Mormon faith, but threats from the US government caused most Mormons to renounce the practice during the 19th century. The change didn't happen overnight, and it wasn't universal.
In 1904, Mormon officials asked individual Mormon communities to sign a pledge promising that they would not take more than one wife. Some communities refused, and were excommunicated from the Mormon church as a result. One of these communities formed the FLDS, which continues to practice polygamy to this day.
The FLDS Practices Placement Marriage, The LDS Does Not
Placement marriage is a form of arranged marriage practiced within the FLDS church. This practice dates back to the 1940's. Marriages are decided by the Priesthood Council. Because obedience to the Priesthood Council is seen as a prerequisite for salvation, the arrangements are usually accepted. These marriages can be between teenage girls and much older men, people who never met each other before, and can involve men who are already married.
Some claim that intrafamilial marriages occur, though those claims are not substantiated. FLDS leadership can also demand that a married couple get divorced.
The LDS do not typically arrange marriages. Members are free to choose their own spouses but are expected to participate in supervised group dates, to have relationships within the faith, and to delay sex until after marriage.
FLDS Members Are Not Allowed To Have Sex, LDS Members Are Encouraged To Wait Until Marriage
Because the FLDS is run by a single person, it has some bizarre requirements, including a ban on children's toys and on the consumption of corn. One of the most extreme edicts is one put forth in 2012, which prohibits married couples from having sex. While many religions have restrictions on sexual activity, few of them ban it outright.
So, how should the members of FLDS reproduce? Warren Jeffs, the leader of the group, appointed a council of 15 men, who are the only men allowed to pass on their genes. If an FLDS woman wishes to become pregnant, she must appeal to one of those men. Once accepted, the sexual act must be watched by two other members of the council.
Meanwhile, the LDS does not engage in anything nearly so cultish. While members are expected to remain chaste until marriage, sex is permitted within such confines.
FLDS Members Have More Restrictive Dress Codes
The LDS church expects its regular members to dress conservatively, avoiding tattoos, dyed hair, and revealing clothing. Guidelines for missionaries are more extensive, but do allow for significant individual style choices.
There is an official dress code for employees of the church, which has recently loosened up. Women were previously restricted to skirts and dresses and can now wear pantsuits and dress slacks if they choose.
Members of the FLDS church have a far more restrictive dress code. Women and girls wear "prairie dresses" and are forbidden to cut their hair, wear makeup, wear the colors red or black, or show any part of their bodies, including their ankles. The dress code has remained more or less the same since the 1950's.
The Two Sects Have Very Different Ideas On Racism
While many LDS members hold racist beliefs, racism is no longer an official part of the LDS doctrine. All positions within the group, including priesthood, are open to men regardless of race. Perhaps owing to a long history of racial exclusion, the current board has only a few members of color.
The LDS has a long way to go toward completely eliminating racial bias, but they're doing much better than the FLDS, who still have blatantly racist policies. The Southern Poverty Law Center has added them to their list of hate groups, due in part to their stance against interracial marriage. In a 1995 FLDS priesthood class, a teacher said the following:
"He [Cain] was cursed with a black skin and he is the father of the Negro people... He is used by the devil, as a mortal man, to do great evils… If you, young people, were to marry a Negro, you could not be a priesthood person, even if you repented. You could not stay in this work."
The FLDS's overall attitude has not appreciably changed since that time.