I Could Have Been A Polygamous Wife

Now that polygamist and FLDS Prophet, Warren Jeffs, has been handed a life sentence for sexually assaulting underage girls (“wives”) I wonder what will happen to his fold. Will they question? Will any leave? I wonder, because if fate had gone differently, I could have wound up living among them. Which seems horrifying.

I come from a long line of Mormon pioneers who crossed the plains to live in what was then Utah Territory – far from U.S. law. Some of my ancestors practiced polygamy. When Utah eventually sought to become a state, and the U.S. government declined because of “plural marriage,” the Mormon Church deemed the practice no longer necessary. My family went along with the new teaching, but others escaped to the Utah/Arizona border, and parts beyond, feeling they must follow God’s true law.

I am eternally grateful that my own family chose as they did.

That said, in my youth I did not feel entirely free from the threat, as I was taught that polygamy was the way of Heaven (a notion deemphasized today). Contemplating that not-so-heavenly reward, I could only envision my husband’s dalliances dissipating all the energy from our so-called “relationship.” How could I experience the strong love, bonding and connection that I deeply desired?

And according to Mormon prophets, polygamy did not seem to have much to do with love. As Brigham Young taught:

(Men), never love you wives one hair’s breath further than they adorn the Gospel, never love them so but that you can leave them at a moment’s warning without shedding a tear.

Wives should put aside all desire for the exclusive and romantic company of their husbands. Rather, they should simply “receive, conceive, bear, and bring forth” in the name of Israel’s God. They should not be concerned with whether they were loved ‘a particle’ by their companions. That was not what the principle was about.

Mormon past and Fundamentalist Mormon present claim polygamy a higher form of marriage. Really? The Bible says the greatest commandment is love, so wouldn’t a higher form of anything include it? So you see why I’d prefer a different sort of life.

Unlike the isolated FLDS, I had friends and schoolmates with different views from those I’d been taught. Television and movies conceived the world differently. I read books and listened to radio. I have long hoped that FLDS members might one day hear alternate voices, and consider alternate choices, too.  If you don’t even think to question, do you really have any choice?

Doubt entered Kathy Jo Nicholson’s mind when her polygamous prophet (Jeffs’ father) died – despite prophesying he would live until Christ’s second coming. Most stayed true to their beliefs. But Kathy Jo began to wonder. Later she met a questioning man, fell in love, eloped, and left the fold.

Today Kathy Jo worries about family left behind, trapped in a world they don’t think to question.

During his trial, Jeffs threatened that God would bring “sickness and death”
to prosecutors. According to the Salt Lake Tribune:

After Judge Barbara Walther dismissed the jury, Jeffs began reading from a piece of paper that he claimed contained “Jesus Christ’s own words.”

“I will wrest your power. I shall judge you. I shall let all peoples know your unjust ways,” he said. “I will send a scourge upon the counties of prosecutorial zeal to be humbled by sickness and death.”

Didn’t happen. Jeffs asked his fold not to read news accounts. But did some read anyway? He prophesied he’d be freed before trial took place… so his flock built him
a mansion
.

Sometimes prophetic failure brings questions. Sometimes it does not. I can only hope that at least a few minds will open, and that if I had lived among them, my mind would have been one of those.

For more on this topic, see “What’s Love Got to Do with It: Earthly Experience of Celestial Marriage, Past and Present,” in Modern Polygamy in the United States by Cardel Jacobs with Lara Burton, Oxford University Press, 2011.  Also see The Redemption of Love: Rescuing Marriage and Sexuality from the Economics of a World (Brazos Press, 2006) and New Man, New Woman, New Life both by Carrie Miles, Ph.D., University of Chicago and senior scholar in residence at Chapman University. And check out her Empower website (www.EmpowerInternational.org),
and blog.
http://carriemiles.wordpress.com/

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
Polygamy is Heavenly says Pedophile Prophet
Are Women Brainwashed Into Polygamy?
Frats Invite Sluts, Bitches; Women Accept Degradation. Why?

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on August 24, 2011, in gender, psychology, relationships, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. This may be the best piece of writing on the web

  2. That’s really frightening to think that you could of been a polygamous wife if your family hadn’t chosen be separate from that world. We are lucky to have given the chance to question religion and not be sucked into it without a choice. I may be confused, skeptical, and a little scared about what the meaning of life is, if there is one, and what happens after we die, but I am glad and grateful that I was raised to be able to question these things and form my own opinions about these matters. Fundamentalist Mormons, Christians, Muslims, etc. don’t have this kind of freedom. They may think they are superior to the non-believers because they have the answers to life’s questions, but I am glad I don’t know all the answers because I am truly free to live my life not blindly following any rules or regulations to please some “Higher Power” so I can go somewhere nice when I die.

  3. Warren Jeffs is a terrifying man, who uses his power and speaking ability to control innocent people. It is so sad to see how these people have been living and how they believe in this man who has been treated them so wrong for so many years. I’m interested to know if you have ever watched the show “Sister Wives” on TLC. It is about a Fundamentalist Mormon family and the man, Kody, has four wives and 17 children between them. Now I know, like any TV show it has been edited and cut to show what they want it to show, but for the most part this family seems happy. The wives will say that they choose to live this lifestyle because they believe it allows them to be closer to God, otherwise they wouldn’t choose it because it is hard, but ultimately they truly believe in it. They also say that they are not going to force it on their children and let them choose what they want, which I think is the right choice. They also even have an episode where they talk about Warren Jeffs and how wrong what he has done is. Overall, I think they want to change the view on plural marriages and show people that they aren’t all bad.

    • I haven’t seen that show. The closest is a few episodes of Big Love. I agree that Sister Wives’ situation isn’t so bad because a greater level of choice is involved. Having grown up in a somewhat similar atmosphere to the Sister Wives — believing deeply that God wants things a certain way — I continue to wonder how free their choice is. When you’re constantly told that God says X and y are what you must do, it can be unbelievably difficult to make truly free choices.

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