Aug 27, 2014

Daphne Bramham: What’s in a name? Polygamist Winston Blackmore takes on mainstream Mormons

Daphne Bramham
Vancouver Sun
August 26, 2014

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints objects to his 'Latter Day' renaming

Polygamist Winston Blackmore is fighting the mainstream Mormon church in court for the right to use the name The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Blackmore has registered the name in B.C. and won’t give it up. It’s all because of polygamy.

In response to a civil suit launched in June by the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Blackmore argues that he and his 500-or-so followers deserve the name because they continue to practise polygamy as an essential tenet of their beliefs, just as Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith set out in 1838.

Blackmore has never made a secret of his plural marriages or the fact that 10 of his 24 “brides” were under the age of 18 when he married them in religious ceremonies.

Earlier this month, the former bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was one of four people from the community known as Bountiful to be criminally charged. (The FLDS, now estimated to have as many as 10,000 members, began in the early 20th century when a small group of Canadians and Americans decided to continue practising polygamy after it had been banned by the mainstream church.)

Blackmore was charged with one count of polygamy, while another former FLDS bishop, James Oler, was charged with one count of polygamy and one count of child trafficking for sexual purposes. Blackmore’s brother, Brandon, and sister-in-law, Emily Crossfield, were also charged with one count of child sex trafficking.

Despite a 2011 Supreme Court of B.C. decision that found the polygamy law to be valid, Winston Blackmore has indicated that he will fight the criminal charges by arguing that practising polygamy is protected by the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.

The civil case against the mainstream church may prove to be no less of a David-and-Goliath battle.

The mainstream church has been called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1838. Also known as the LDS, it has an estimated 15 million followers in 170 countries.

But the problem for the church is that it never registered the name in Canada.

So, in May 2010, Blackmore cleverly registered “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Inc.” in British Columbia, omitting the hyphen and putting the capital letter on “Day.”

For the LDS, the high-profile Canadian polygamist’s assumption of its name is more than a nuisance.

It makes things more infuriatingly and frustratingly confusing than they already are.

For 125 years, LDS leaders have tried to distance themselves from Smith’s most controversial revelation that polygamy was essential to exaltation and attaining the highest level of heaven.

In 1890, under threat that the U.S. army would invade what is now the state of Utah, the LDS renounced the earthly practice of plural marriage. Since then, the church says it has excommunicated any member found to be a polygamist.

Yet, the link between Mormonism and polygamy in the public realm has proved difficult to break.

In the last decade, LDS efforts have been thwarted by the publicity attracted by fundamentalists like Blackmore and Warren Jeffs, the FLDS prophet serving a life sentence in Texas for sexual offences committed against girls aged 12 and 15.

Its efforts to have journalists stop referring to the self-described fundamentalist Mormons have had limited success, while reality TV shows Sister Wives and My Five Wives, along with the TV drama Big Love, have shone an even greater light on the practice.

And it didn’t help that when Mormon Mitt Romney ran as the Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency in 2012, it was widely reported that his great-grandfather had been a polygamist, with five wives living in exile in Mexico, and that his grandfather was born in that polygamous community.

What Blackmore contends in his response to the LDS civil suit is that he and all of the directors of his church are “members of the Mormon church who were all baptized as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and who follow [Smith’s revelations compiled in] the Doctrine and Covenants.”

His response, filed last week, says leaders of the mainstream church have always known that “members of the Mormon religion” have faithfully followed Smith’s teachings, including polygamy, and that those leaders “have stood by while those who follow the Doctrine and Covenants have used the name … continuously and extensively in the United States of America and Canada.”

The statement goes on to say that the LDS leaders are now “wrongfully attempting to use their economic might to appropriate the name … without colour of right.”

Further, it says Blackmore’s group has no intention, and never has, “to pass itself off or represent itself as a ‘mainstream’ Mormon organization or company.”

All of those statements have yet to be tested in court and the LDS church plans to respond to Blackmore’s contentions only via its lawyer.

In rejecting the LDS claim for damages, Blackmore’s response notes that he has also registered the name “The Original Doctrine Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Inc.” in B.C. and offered that as a compromise solution.

But LDS leaders won’t hear of it.

The name is still far too close for comfort.