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
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/
Warren Jeffs, 55-year-old “Prophet” of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 15, whom he had recently added to his harem of nearly 90 “plural wives.”
When Texas Rangers raided his compound in 2008, many were outraged at the infringement on his sect’s religious rights. And Jeffs repeatedly insisted his religious freedom was violated at trial.
Yet the raid, prompted by a prank call to an abuse hotline, provided evidence that more than one-quarter of Jeffs’ “wives” were underage. And in several journal entries, Jeffs said God told him to take more and more young girls as brides “who can be worked with and easily taught.” And, since 105 males are born for every 100 females, you do have to marry younger to do polygamy.
Yet Jeffs claims it the highest form of marriage, bringing exaltation in heaven.
As if pedophilia weren’t problem enough, there’s more trouble in paradise.
Girls and women are basically property. Jeffs writes of summoning the parents of one 14-year-old and informing them “of their girl belonging to me.” He describes wives as “honorable vessels, property of your husband’s kingdom and the Kingdom of God on Earth.” Fathers gave their daughters to him and were rewarded with young brides of their own.
Wives were expected to serve him. Much evidence against Jeffs came from a wife-training tape instructing girls how to please him sexually and win favor with the Lord. He quoted revelations from God as he instructed wives on becoming comfortable nude, grooming their body hair, and group sex.
You have to know how to be excited sexually and to be excited to administer that comfort and strength. And you have to be able to assist each other. No one sits around, everyone assists each other.
On assisting each other, it might help if roughly ninety-five percent of women weren’t straight.
While Jeffs was “appointed” by God to engage in this behavior, other FLDS men were not. “If another man, not appointed, were to do this,” he said, “they would lose priesthood.” He warned his wives to tell no one of this “higher order.”
The wife-training tape seems to include sounds of sobbing. Were the girls less pleased at their call to sexual service than their husband was?
Girls reluctant to have sex with Jeffs were sent away.
But young men were driven out of the community, as well, on trivial charges like watching “inappropriate movies.” If you’re going to be polygamous in a world with equal numbers of women and men, you’ve got to subtract a few men.
Jeffs also reassigned the property and families of men he found threatening, breaking up around 300 families. Ross Chatwin had been fine with polygamy, until this happened to him. “Polygamy is not the problem here,” Chatwin insisted, “It’s the dictatorship.”
Interesting that Chatwin had no problem so long as he had plenty of wives and possessions. He remains blind to the troubles of girls, women, and boys sent away.
Here we find patriarchy in the old sense: older, powerful men wielding control over women and younger and more powerless males.
All-powerful and living without limits, Jeffs seems never satisfied. On the wife-training
tape he says, “OK, six ladies. I wish I had a seventh.” At another point he exclaims, “I need more than one wife to be with me at a time.” Ninety wives and counting… Monogamous men may wish they had more. Apparently, nothing’s enough for polygamous men, either.
Meanwhile, his wives must share just one man, and not one they’re necessarily attracted
to. His pleasure at their expense. A friend of mine wrote a book on 19th century Mormon polygamy. Any wonder he titled it In Sacred Loneliness?
Jeffs indulges his ravenous appetite, ultimately unquenchable, as his wives gain little gratification.
Is polygamy really so heavenly, Mr. Jeffs?