Splinter Groups of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Belief in The Book of Mormon Connects Them Together

The Community of Christ (formerly known as RLDS) temple in Independence, MO. Richard Cummins/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Many distinct Christian faiths believe in the Bible. Many distinct LDS splinter groups believe in The Book of Mormon. It is the one common denominator that unifies the many sects, churches, groups and individuals with an LDS heritage.

The church known as the Community of Christ and the fundamentalist groups that practice polygamy are the only significant splinter groups or offshoots of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

All embrace The Book of Mormon.

Historians have documented over 100 different splinter groups and splinter groups from these splinter groups. Most are very small and many no longer exist. Instead of classifying them as splinter groups from the LDS Church, they sometimes classify them as being part of the restoration movement or the Mormon movement; which ignores whether the participants ever had an actual membership in the Church.

Most of the splinter groups resulted from leadership crises, changes in Church practices or changes in society.

Two Major Leadership Crises Resulted in Splinter Groups

  1. The first occurred while the founding prophet, Joseph Smith, was still alive. Events surrounding the nation's financial Panic of 1837 caused many to believe that Joseph Smith was not a prophet after all or was no longer a prophet. Fallout from these events caused many to leave the Church and some formed their own splinter groups, or insisted that theirs was the continuation of the original church.
  1. After Joseph Smith died in 1844 there was a succession crisis where various individuals claimed to be his rightful successor, and various church members supported these individual claims. The main body of the Church allied itself under Brigham Young and relocated to what is now modern-day Utah. Officially, this is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Currently it has more than 16 million members worldwide. In news media, it is often referred to as the mainstream church.

    Instead of following Brigham Young or relocating to Utah, some members stayed behind and chose to follow other leaders. Some of these included members of Joseph Smith's immediate family.

    The Community of Christ

    Many felt that before his death, Joseph Smith had designated his son to be the faith's rightful leader, rather than Brigham Young, the senior member of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

    The church traditionally known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or RLDS, but now known as the Community of Christ, was formed. Joseph Smith III, Joseph Smith's son became its official leader.

    The Community of Christ is currently a world-wide faith with approximately 250,000 members.

    Controversy Over Polygamy Resulted in Some Splinter Groups

    The practice of having more than one wife is usually called plural marriage by the Church; but is often referred to as polygamy by others.

    Regardless of what it was called, it officially ended in 1890. Members currently in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who practice plural marriage are excommunicated, unless they abandon it. Some members voluntarily left the Church as a result of this policy change.

    Fundamentalism Usually Means Polygamy

    The largest such splinter group is known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or FLDS.

    For most of its existence, this church has been located in the twin border cities of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah; although other locations do exist. In recent times, significant numbers relocated to Texas; where members were subjected to a high-profile 2008 raid, as well as other legal challenges.

    No one really knows how many members this church has. Conservative estimates suggest about 6,000. More generous estimates place the number at 10,000 or more. Other individuals and groups who practice polygamy, and claim some connection to the mainstream Church, probably number in the tens of thousands; although no one knows for certain.

    All such individuals and groups are generally referred to as fundamentalists; suggesting that the mainstream Church has strayed from these early beliefs and practices.

    Societal Issues Have Caused Some Rifts

    Splinter groups have formed because of changes in society and how that affects people's beliefs. Controversy over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the 1970s, the role of women, blacks being denied the Priesthood and other issues have resulted in some people leaving the Church, or being forced to leave. The same is true of same-sex marriage; especially the role the Church played in Proposition 8's defeat in California in 2008.

    However, none of these issues resulted in large splinter groups forming or large numbers leaving the mainstream Church; although some splinter groups do exist.