The Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) is a splinter group of Mormonism that believes that polygamy is a God-ordained form of marriage. The FLDS traces its roots all the way back to the original teachings of Joseph Smith. The group is based in Colorado City, Arizona, and has an estimated 10,000 members. The Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints is led by self-proclaimed prophet Warren Jeffs, who is currently in prison serving a life sentence for the sexual assault of a minor.
The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, claimed to have received revelations from God. Among his claims were that men were meant to have multiple wives (Doctrine and Covenants 132:61–62). This was a core distinctive of early Mormon theology and a major point of contention for non-Mormons. By the late 1800s, polygamy in the Mormon Church was a major political problem, too. Mormon efforts to have Utah admitted as a state of the Union were stonewalled in no small part because of the Mormon belief in polygamy.
Between 1890 and 1904, Mormon leadership claimed to have new divine revelations that disavowed plural marriages. Existing polygamous marriages were kept intact, but no new instances of polygamy were to be allowed. This doctrinal change opened the political doors for Utah’s statehood, but it also split the Mormon Church. Some Mormons insisted on following the original revelation of Joseph Smith by participating in polygamy. By the early 1900s, orthodox Mormonism was excommunicating those who insisted on multiple-wife marriages.
Some of those polygamists rejected by mainline Mormonism banded together in an effort to protect the practice of polygamy. The new group called itself the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. But before long even the FLDS began to splinter into other denominations. One such sub-group is the Apostolic United Brethren, best known today as the sect featured in the reality TV show Sister Wives.
As is common with splinter groups, the theology and practices of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints are subject to change and difficult to describe in accurate detail. Beyond plain dress, a communal lifestyle, arranged marriages, and polygamy, FLDS beliefs are more or less identical to those of mainline Mormonism. Of course, Mormonism of any variety is contradictory to the Bible.
In sharp contrast to mainline Mormonism, however, the FLDS has been a repeated target of law enforcement. Accusations of pedophilia and spousal abuse are added to the charge of polygamy, which is still illegal in the U.S. The Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints has also been accused of misogyny and racism by various political groups. Most mainline Mormons, and even more fundamentalist groups such as the Apostolic United Brethren, take great pains to dissociate themselves from the FLDS. This is similar to the way most Christian denominations make an effort to separate themselves from groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church.