Religious Labels

July 17, 2008

Probably one of the most difficult aspects of dealing with religious conflicts and differences is using the appropriate labels to describe individuals and groups. One word in particular that often causes problems is "fundamentalist." Although some people proudly claim the label, many of those called this actually decry such labeling.

However, there is an interesting dispute concerning those living at the polygamist compound in Texas that was raided a couple of months ago. The media often called the polygamists "fundamentalist Mormons," which is the label the group uses to describe themselves. However, the Mormon Church, that is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has asked the media to stop using the phrase "fundamentalist Mormons" to describe the polygamists. They argued:

We would like to be known and recognized for whom we are and what we believe, and not be inaccurately associated with beliefs and practices that we condemn in the strongest terms.
The conflict, therefore is over the use of the word "Mormon" and not "fundamentalist." The group in question, however, insisted it is their right to label themselves. They explained:
We strenuously object to any efforts to deprive us and others of the freedom to name and describe ourselves by terms of our own choosing.
There is likely no way to choose a term that both groups will like. It is yet another reminder of the difficulty in choosing the right language to describe religious disagreements.

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