In Steve Evans’s recent post “I Could Not Do It” at BCC, he mentioned the “serious aspect of fundamentalism at the heart of being a Mormon,” and then clarified,
I am using “fundamentalism” in a general sense, and not in reference to polygamist groups, although that is clearly an example of fundamentalism in action.
His comment got me to thinking that it’s too bad that, in the Mormon context, the word “fundamentalist” has come to be almost synonymous with “polygamous.” I think it would be useful if we could retain the broader meaning of the word in a Mormon context. For example, one of the (many) strengths of Armand Mauss’s The Angel and the Beehive was, I thought, that he used “fundamentalist” to describe strains of thought and changes in the Church, and thus likely made his discussion more accessible to non-LDS readers familiar with fundamentalism more generally.
So how could the broader term “fundamentalist” be reclaimed for more general use in discussing Mormonism? How can it be used to describe approaches described by Mauss as “characterized by such beliefs as scriptural inerrancy and literalism . . . strict obedience to pastoral injunctions . . . traditionalism in gender roles” rather than just “polygamous”? Here’s a possible solution. Perhaps “Mormon fundamentalism” could be used to refer to fundamentalist thinking in any church or organization that traces its authority to Joseph Smith, whether in or out of the LDS Church. Fundamentalism specifically inside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could then be called “LDS fundamentalism.”
One advantage of this solution is that it retains the present usage: the FLDS church can still be called Mormon fundamentalists. Perhaps I’m suggesting the term be broadened a bit in this area to include other restoration movements that broke away from the LDS and the CoC that don’t practice polygamy. But the most common usage is left intact. The only real change is that now we would have a new term to refer to strains of thought within the LDS Church that push for scriptural literalism and the like without the potential confusion with fundamentalism that falls outside the LDS Church but still within the broader Mormon restoration movement.
I can see three possible classes of objections to my proposed labeling of Mormon fundamentalism and LDS fundamentalism.
First, President Hinckley once said in Conference,
I wish to state categorically that this Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church. . . .
There is no such thing as a ‘Mormon Fundamentalist.’ It is a contradiction to use the two words together.
This is true, but only if we take “Mormon” as referring only to members of the LDS Church and “fundamentalist” as referring only to polygamists. When we define both terms more broadly, then President Hinckley’s statement is no longer true.
Second, a solution this simple has probably already been proposed. It seems like something someone would have written about in Dialogue in, say, 1993. This very well could be. If it is, would you please point it out in the comments?
Third, a solution this simple probably has fatal flaws that I haven’t considered. This is even more likely true than that it’s already been suggested. Again, feel free to point the flaws out in the comments.