Efforts to introduce unorthodox sexual and marital practices have often caused dissension in new religious movements. The nineteenth-century Oneida Perfectionist and Mormon communities highlight the profound impact such practices may have on group cohesion and development. Conflicts over the introduction of complex marriage almost led John Humphrey Noyes' Oneida Community to disband in 1852, yet the group survived and prospered for another quarter century until renewed internal and external tension precipitated the group's formal demise in 1881. Serious internal and external challenges associated with polygamy also developed within the larger, rapidly expanding Mormon community in Illinois under Joseph Smith Jr., during the early 1840s, and in Utah under Brigham Young until 1877. Not until the LDS Church began to give up plural marriage and make other significant accommodations to American society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however, was Mormonism eventually freed to begin its rapid expansion throughout the United States and worldwide after World War II. The article concludes that although alternative marriage and sexual practices may have initially served as powerful commitment mechanisms, such controversial practices appear to have had a net negative impact upon the long-term development of both groups.
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