Some Subtle Differences between Fundamentalist and Mainstream Mormonism

In my notes from last year’s Sunstone Symposium, I gave a list of ten principal differences between Fundamentalist and Mainstream Mormonism as given by Brian Hales. See comment 93 of this thread.

While those are the biggies, there are other, more subtle differences that would mostly be lost on a journalist, yet will be meaningful to a person immersed in either tradition. This list derives from a friend who used to be involved in the Apostolic United Brethren and is now mainstream (some of this may be specific to the AUB and not necessarily applicable to the FLDS). The below is shared with permission.

* They seal men and women to their priesthood leaders under the “law of adoption”.

* They believe they are “the priesthood” and presided over by a council of seven “high priest apostles” that hold higher priesthood keys than members of the Q12.

* 70’s have higher authority than High Priests.

* They ordain some to be “70 Apostles” as members of the 70’s quorum.

* The officiator raises his right arm to the square to bless the sacrament and the other officiators kneel (but not the congregation).

* Only priests and elders administer the sacrament – which includes preparing & passing.

* They use multiple 8oz. glasses for the sacramental water so that the cups are shared and the cup is passed to each member individually without “passing it down the line”.

* Talks are many times given during the passing of the sacrament.

* They lead a person into the waters of baptism by the right hand.

* The long one-piece garment is worn at all times.

* Officiators in Melchizedek Priesthood ordinances raise both arms to the square.

* Persons who are called to positions (like Sunday School Teacher) or ordained to priesthood offices are not presented to the congregation for a “sustaining vote”.

* They do not have a “Fast Sunday”, their day of week to fast is Thursday.

* A member can receive a re-baptism for things such as health & re-commitment.

* A baptism and confirmation into “the Kingdom of God” is given to select members in preparation for the 2nd endowment.

* Women will give a “mothers blessing” as an ordinance prior to childbirth.

* Members are called out of the congregation to give “sacrament talks” without any preparation.

* Joseph Smith is seen as the Holy Ghost and revered as much as Jesus Christ

* Jesus Christ is not recognized as Jehovah or “The Creator”.

* Missionary work is left up to the Church, so they have no full time missionaries.

* Temple ordinances are like the pre-1930’s version and explanatory lectures are given during the Endowment.

Taken alone, many of these are not “fundamental doctrinal differences”, but taken together they do make members of the AUB (and other offshoots) feel different from “orthodox Mormons” and give them a closer fellowship with the early saints. Apart from these differences, they are very much like any ultra-conservative member of the LDS Church who has a literal interpretation of the scriptures and believes that the Church should not change its doctrines or ordinances and that everything Joseph and the other Prophets taught is true and accurate.

Use of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants and Pearl of Great Price is the same, but they will frequently use the Inspired Version of the Bible. They use Church manuals for primary classes and some Sunday School classes (with appropriate revisions if necessary). The basic “primary level” doctrines are all pretty much the same, so I would not see them having many differences with “Gospel Principles” or “True to the Faith” and they accept the Articles of Faith in the same way we do.


  1. Thanks for this, Kevin. For those of us who want to know more about the various groups without studying their doctrinal works, this is very helpful. The AUB has been in the local (SLC) news stressing their distinctiveness from the FLDS, too.

  2. Visitor says:

    We were told today that any one of us might be called to speak during next week’s Branch conference so we should each prepare a talk just in case. Hmmm!

  3. Much of these differences are drawn from historical president, but still, there are a number that are ahistoric, e.g., the presiding council of seven. The idea of “Seventy Apostles” goes back to the first 70’s in 1835 and was popularized by Brigham, but the differention from “high priest apostles,” is, I believe, not extant in documented history.

    JS as the Holy Ghost is obviously shocking to most Mormons, but it seems that they are drawing their Christology from Adam-God.

    The raising of arms during prayers/rituals has some historical president, but it wasn’t ever a formalized practice (though it was very common). I’m not aware of any 19th century distinction between raising one or two arms in various rituals (like the sacrament or consecrating oil).

  4. The main church has more hip apologists on their blogs. Staples, I think it’s a bleedover from particular types of prayers.

  5. smb, no question.

  6. zeezrom says:

    Do the fundamentalists have blogs?

  7. Michael says:

    I am confused as to why you call them fundamentalist mormons. The Church is very clear that there is no such thing as a fundamentalist mormon. There are apostates or ex-members from the LDS Church that have created new churches but there are no fundamentalist mormons.

    I am sorry Mr. Barney but I will have to call you to task on this one.

  8. As far as raising hands during prayers, I remember recently seeing in the Church History Museum a photograph of a nineteenth-century LDS sacrament meeting with the sacrament officiator’s hands in a raised position. I wasn’t surprised to see such a picture, but I was surprised considering that it was in the Church Museum.

  9. Michael,
    We allow all people the right to self-identify in a manner that they chose. Whether or not it makes sense or reflects a reality we would or would not prefer is another issue.

  10. Kevin – How about identifying/notating the complete list of which of these beliefs/practices have been part of the historical mainstream LDS for us? I recognize a bunch of these as having happened in the early church, but it would great if you could identify all of the historical practices so we can all see how much we have in common with the off-shoots.

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    Michael, I’m well aware of the Church’s position on the use of the word “Mormon.” I understand and can certainly appreciate the PR impulse behind its preference, but personally I think it’s overwrought and disagree with it.

    LRC, someone with more historical chops than I possess would need to do that. J. gave some notes along those lines above.

  12. I’m with KB on the “Mormon” issue. Sorry, Michael.
    1. yes
    2-5, not so much
    6. sort of
    7. yes
    8. haven’t seen good records on such specific liturgical mechanics
    9. unknown/not specified
    10. yes
    11. they’re mixing rituals
    12. yes and no. sustaining votes were mostly for presiding elders from what i see in branches
    13. yes
    14. yes
    15. sort of
    16. yes, well documented and quite beautiful
    17. generally leaders, but yes, very extemporaneous
    18. very complicated, but not really
    19. debated; current standard treatment says Jesus = Jehovah is a late importation, but I’m not entirely persuaded
    20. no
    21. yes

  13. Michael says:

    Mr. Barney – But isn’t it our responsibility to build up the Kingdom of God here on earth and not to sow doubt or discord unnecessarily? I am not talking about legitimate doubts related to a testimony of the Gospel but things that create confusion in the minds and hearts of non-members. We have a duty to present a true picture of the Church.

    By giving credence to the apostate sect, we are sowing confusion unnecessarily.

    Dear John C – with all due respect, I have never understood comments such as yours. It does nothing to advance the cause of truth.

  14. Sam, I would differ saying:

    4 yes
    5 yes (though there was flexibility and diversity here)
    8 yes.

    Of course some things were isolated or rare, and some things (like I mentioned in comment #3 weren’t particularly formalized).

  15. Michael, you are accusing Kevin, one of our Church’s greatest defenders of destroying the Kingdom of God. If you cannot be more respectful, then I invite you to find another community with which to participate.

  16. Staples
    re: 4, i’ll buy that very early, but it’s a reasonably rapid split.
    5/8 are interesting to me. where are you getting your liturgical details? you should get the sources to mb. maybe at some nerdly gathering we should do some (tasteful and respectful) historical reenactments of non-temple rites to get a sense for how they operated.

    Michael, I think there’s room for differences of opinion on this point, but for most outsiders refusing to call them Mormon fundamentalists is a tad confusing. Your response to John C’s fairly restrained comment is in turn a little confusing.

  17. smb, I’ll grant you that post-Brigham, there wasn’t a lot of seventies-apostles love.

    For the manner of blessing the sacrament, beyond ninteenth-century journals, there are things like the Juvenile Instructor. I even have an oral history from my Mom where she describes when she was a child and the administrants raised their arm to the square while blessing the sacraments. I know I have read JFS on the evolution of kneeling.

    As for sermonizing during the sacrament, that is well attested to in diaries and in the Deseret News. I wouldn’t go so far to say that it was always the case, but it happened enough for it to be fairly evident.

  18. …oh, and historical reenactments are all the rage in the church these days (grin).

  19. Cool. You and that Utah period, man. Someday I’ll have to stop being so retro. DC20 implies kneeling, though, right?

  20. Thanks for the info, folks, it looks like your lists are similar to what I thought they’d be.

    I wonder which organization Joseph Smith, Jr., et al would be more comfortable/familiar with should he come visiting one Sunday?

  21. Yeah, the development of the Lord’s Supper in Mormonism is really quite fascinating. You have the school of the prophets with their pieces of bread as large as your fist and then the love feasts in the Temple. I seem to remember JFS talking about DC 20 and explaining why they didn’t kneel anymore. I don’t think I have actually ever seen an account where the congregation knelt.

  22. LRC, the Church is always changing. Maybe in 50 years there will be a fundamentalist group that still has MIA boards and road shows. Who knows? Of course the Church (not to mention the broader culture) is different now than when Joseph lived. I would imagine that Paul or John the Beloved would be even more out of place. The beauty of a living church.

  23. LRC, if I had to guess, I’d think he’d be happiest in the Obama campaign organization. But next most comfortable in the SLC church.

    I’m with Stapley on the beauty of a living church, even if I often wax nostalgic about earliest Mormonism.

  24. Randall says:

    Distracting from the discourse a little. I wanted to thank the bloggers and commentators at BCC. For years, I’ve been yearning for fellowship with like-minded inquisitive people who enjoy historical, contextual, and literary analysis.

    I’ve had these types of discussion with a few close friends and a brother, but now we all live in different states. It’s wonderful to be able to log-in and read a fascinating comparison of Fundamentalist vs. mainstream Mormons, or speculations as to how the church will develop.

    My own thoughts are that our church will increasingly follow the example of the RLDS church–pushing toward correlation with other more accepted Christian churches.

    This will be a mixed blessing for us. The unique cultural aspects and peculiarities of our church bring us together, but our missionary effort will be that much more effective without these distractions. The direction of GBH and TSM seem clear from the last 2 decades.

  25. Mahonri says:

    Just a few clarifications –

    The AUB sees “high priest Apostles” as a continuation of the presiding members of Joseph Smith’s ‘holy order’ organization (those who have received their second anointings). The first quorum organized in the 20th century had 7 members, but there have sometimes been more or less.

    Other Melchizedek Priesthood offices can also be involved in the Sacrament – not just Elders & Not all Melchizedek Priesthood ordinances involve any arms held to the square – giving the gift of the Holy Ghost as an example.

    They are happy to be called Mormon Fundamentalists – as the term is used in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, by many scholars of Mormon history, and was used to refer to them by others before they adopted it.

    I think it is also important to note that they do not condone arranged marriages, underaged marriages, incest, spousal or child abuse.

    Amongst their members are doctors, nurses, business owners, computer programmers, college professors, and construction workers. They operate several schools, and have congregations in Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, Montana, and Mexico.

  26. thanks

  27. Fwiw, My father was born in 1913 in Barnwell Alberta. He told me it was quite common to see men pray with their arm to the square, as he was growing up there.

  28. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 13

    Are you new here, Michael?
    You’re not in Provo anymore.

    –Another Michael

    ps) Cool post, Kevin. The various Mormon sects are most fascinating. I await a Strangite revival.

  29. Kevin, thanks for this brief comparison.

    I suspect that these AUB beliefs/practices are in turn different from FLDS beliefs/practices. At this juncture, I think that it would have been more helpful to have had a comparison to the FLDS themselves.

  30. Hi Kevin,

    Nice bit of work. I’m teaching a course in fundamentalism next semester, and I wondered what you’re using to define fundamentalism.


  31. Michael, #7, the Church can try to contain the use of the word Mormon to its own flock, but many of th offshoots of the restoration use the word Mormon. The term is also used to refer to all of them collectively. As a result it is proper to refer to Fundamentalist Mormons, since they are a branch of the restoration. The LDS Church’s style guide is not the authority here.

  32. Further to David’s comment:
    Surely our irritation at others’ removal of the Christian label from our own faith should discourage us from criticising the self-applied use of the term “Mormon” by Mormon fundamentalists.

  33. Kevin Barney says:

    Ronan’s point is largely why I have no problem with the self-identification of polygamous groups as “Mormon fundamentalists.” I view the term Christian generically, and so I see Mormons as falling under that rubric (being Christian isn’t tantamount to being right; it simply means we claim to be partisans of Christ, even if we have huge doctrinal differences with other strands of Christianity). Similarly, I view the term Mormon generically (being Mormon also isn’t tantamount to being right). Just as there can be heterodox Christians (such as, say, Mormons), there can be heterodox Mormons. I realize that we don’t like the confusion this engenders in the press, but I think we have to pick our poison. Do we want to insist on our assertion that we are Christian, or are we willing to cede that title to those with a more long-standing claim to it? I don’t think we should cede that title, and therefore, to be consistent, I’m willing to use the title “Mormon” for those who similarly claim it.

    Mogget, as to your question, I didn’t really have in mind a particularly scholarly definition of fundamentalist. This particular list is descriptive of the AUB. I was thinking of those sects and individuals who continue to practice certain fundamentals of the 19th century (plural marriage, Adam-God, etc.), especially those who trace their priesthood authority through Lorin C. Woolley in the 1920s.

  34. OK, thanks. I understand the approach but just wondered if anyone had ever done the more formal work on it.

  35. I posted some historical notes on the administration of the sacrament several years ago here.

  36. Thanks for that link, Justin. I had forgot about that post.

  37. This list is fairly accurate, but not all fundamentalist groups are the same. We believe that the congregation does kneel during the sacrament prayer, just like the scriptures state. Also, not all believe that Joseph Smith is the Holy Ghost. The other differences I see between the list and myself are minor. If you want to see a longer list of subtle differences between Fundamentalist and LDS, look at Ogden Kraut’s 95 Thesis.

  38. Steve Evans says:

    Fascinating stuff, Kevin. Thanks for this. For praxis-oriented folks such as the LDS this is like finally understanding what’s going on.

  39. John Mansfield says:

    Here is a nice old Ensign article that reviewed changes in our Sunday worhip: “Over the years preaching, singing, and musical numbers accompanied the administration of the sacrament. In 1946 the First Presidency abolished all such distractions. The ideal condition, they said, is to have absolute quiet: ‘We look with disfavor upon vocal solos, duets, group singing, or instrumental music during the administration of this sacred ordinance.'”

    I had thought this article was more recent than 1978, but I must be remembering incorectly.

  40. My understanding of the “fundamentalist” groups is that none of them have made the priesthood inclusive for all male members. Anybody know for sure on that? Seems cogent as we approach June 8th this year.

  41. #7:
    The [LDS?] Church is very clear that there is no such thing as a fundamentalist mormon. There are apostates or ex-members from the LDS Church that have created new churches but there are no fundamentalist mormons.

    It was Gordon Hinckley, of course, who famously declared that there was “no such thing” as a Fundamentalist Mormon, as these people were supposedly not “Mormons.” It was an unfortunate choice of public relations spin, since it is incredibly reminiscent of those so-called “mainstream” christians who declare that LDS are not “christians.” Hinckley’s declaration was particularly perplexing, given that he spent many years declaring that LDS should not refer to themselves as the “Mormons” or “Mormon church.” Of course, the LDS church’s intellectual property holding company has now sought to trademark “Mormon.”

    Just as LDS expect to be considered “christians” based on their own self-identification, Fundamentalist Mormons expect to be considered “Mormons,” based on their own self-identification.

    Further, you may be surprised to know that the majority of Fundamentalist Mormons do not fit your description of “apostates” and “ex-members of the LDS church.” The majority are born into their respective faiths, just as the majority of LDS are born into that faith. They never “apostatized” from a faith (LDS-ism) that they never belonged to.

  42. #20:
    I wonder which organization Joseph Smith, Jr., et al would be more comfortable/familiar with should he come visiting one Sunday?

    Honestly, if Joseph Smith Jr. was to come visiting the various faiths which claim to descend from his teachings, I strongly believe he would conclude that the faith he taught had been lost to the earth.

  43. Honestly, if Joseph Smith Jr. was to come visiting the various faiths which claim to descend from his teachings, I strongly believe he would conclude that the faith he taught had been lost to the earth.

    If the faith Joseph espoused were true, he wouldn’t need to “come back” at all, as he would be well aware in the Spirit World as to what is going on in the Latter-day work. Furthermore, JS seemed more likely to welcome innovation than some of the later prophets who seem to have actually implemented innovation.

  44. If the faith Joseph espoused were true, he wouldn’t need to “come back” at all, as he would be well aware in the Spirit World as to what is going on in the Latter-day work.

    Granted, but I was answering the question as it was asked, rather than trying to slam the person who asked it.

    Furthermore, JS seemed more likely to welcome innovation than some of the later prophets who seem to have actually implemented innovation.

    The difference, however, is that Joseph favored progressive innovations/revelations, rather than PR statements that relegate earlier revelations to “speculation by early members.” Sadly, the LDS treatment of Joseph Smith’s teachings has been a long process of unrevelation.

  45. Thomas Parkin says:

    “Honestly, if Joseph Smith Jr. was to come visiting the various faiths which claim to descend from his teachings, I strongly believe he would conclude that the faith he taught had been lost to the earth.”

    I know you love Joseph, Nick. I think you’re projecting.


  46. Mahonri says:


    Like other Latter-day Saints prior to 1978 – Mormon Fundamentalists do not extend the Priesthood to those men they believe are descendants of Cain. They consider them to be just as much God’s children, and believe they shall one day have that opportunity, but do not believe that time has yet come.

    This is because 1) statements attributed to Joseph Smith and publicly repeated by Brigham Young indicating they shall not receive the Priesthood at least until some time during the millennium 2) they do not recognize the authority of Spencer W. Kimball to ‘overturn’ Brigham’s teachings.

  47. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 41

    OK, Nick, I’m just going to say this: Your persistent use of the expression “LDS-ism” to describe the Mormon faith offends me, and probably others here who are too polite to call you to task.

    It’s particularly ironic in a thread which defends everyone’s right to self-identify as they wish. How many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would describe their faith as LDS-ism?

    Please stop doing that, Nick. Thank you.

  48. Nick makes an interesting point about referring to members of various FLDS branches as “apostates”. I agree with him that it does not seem particularly fitting, as most of these people who were born into that faith didn’t really apostatize from anything. But I think that the argument stems from the idea that the FLDS faith itself is an apostate form of the Gospel and on that basis they are called apostates.

    Although I understand the reasons for it, I regret the impulse to let PR direct our behavior toward the FLDS and others. It is certainly inconvenient and even embarassing for members of the Church to be constantly confused with the unsavory practices of the FLDS in the media but even all the emphasis that we currently put on PR maneuvers still do not prevent the press from lumping us all together and sneering at our religious beliefs. And our focus on PR then makes us look priggish rather than charitable.