Lynn A. Thompson, priesthood president of the United Apostolic Brethren, Mormon’s largest fundamentalist religion, passed away quietly this week on October 5, 2021.
“Fundamentalist Mormon religion” is a term used by both the early leaders of the movement and by leaders of the Mormon Church to distinguish itself from those who continued the controversial marital practice. According to the United Apostolic Brothers, they were responsible for pursuing the “fundamentals” of the faith–namely polygamy–after the LDS Church essentially ended the practice in 1904.
Over the past two years, the legal and criminal status of polygamy in the United States was once again the center of public attention. At the start of the 2020 Utah legislative session, Senator Deidre Henderson and Representative Lowry Snow introduced a bill to effectively decriminalize polygamy in Utah. SB102 requalified the practice as an offense for consenting adults, while polygamy associated with other offenses remains a crime.
the bill passed by an astronomical margin. At the center of the debate on the bill was harm reduction and the further integration of polygamous families into the larger Utah society. Among the supporters were several of Thompson’s children who abandoned the faith in adulthood and who recognized the criminal status of polygamy as contributing to an isolated childhood, even in a larger context. fundamentalist “progressive” movement.
While Mormon fundamentalism is most often associated with Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), led by Warren Jeffs, AUB has demonstrated the diversity of practices within the movement. Members of the community have frequently appeared on television shows such as My five wives and Sister Wives. Their public presence forced people to question their previous ideas about polygamous Mormons in the United States.
Despite media attention over the past decade, AUB has always been a marginalized and criminalized religion. Beginning in 1933, in the face of government lawsuits and persecution from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, polygamous Mormons sought a place of refuge to practice their faith. Even in its early days, however, the polygamous Mormon movement was marked by schism.
In 1952, Utah’s nascent polygamous Mormon community underwent a split. Those who were loyal to Joseph W. Musser viewed Rulon C. Allred as his successor and the new president of the priesthood. Under Allred, faith grows. More specifically, the group experienced a growth in membership after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints disintegrated their temples. Soon after, the group officially incorporated under the name Apostolic United Brethren (AUB). By 1970 the group had communities in Pinesdale, MT, as well as Bluffdale and Rocky Ridge, UT.
On Allred’s death in 1977, he was succeeded by his brother, Owen Allred, followed by LaMoine Jenson, the man he named as his successor and who served as community leader until 2014. Thompson assumed leadership of the group after Jenson’s death, bypassing the senior members of the priesthood organization.
Thompson’s leadership was not without controversy. In November 2014, Rosemary Williams accused Thomson of abuse. Thompson denied the allegations, but only encountered additional charges of embezzlement and abuse.
With the passing of this controversial Mormon prophet, the AUB again raises the question of who is recognized as “Mormon” (if anyone is) and how polygamy has contributed to the isolation that marks AUB’s history. When LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson passed away in 2018, Latter-day Saints from across Utah visited the Temple Square Conference Center to see their deceased prophet and pay homage to his legacy. International leaders sent flowers that lined the hall of church presidents, with Monson’s casket at the back of the room decorated with images of his predecessors.
Like Monson, Thompson was considered the man appointed to lead the faithful, speak for the divine, and seal families for eternity. However, with limited media recognition of the death, the religious community surrounding him will remain relatively unnoticed in the public sphere. With the continued prevalence of polygamy in Utah and the legal issues surrounding the Thompson-led faith, recognition of the diversity within the Mormon restoration is more important than ever.