Apr 29, 2008

Why Polygamy Makes Me Feel Like Nancy Kerrigan

Sometimes I get the urge to belt out "WHY?!" in Nancy Kerrigan fashion when I think about my reasons for staying active in the Church. Spiritually speaking, it often feels like I keep on getting whacked in the knees with a metal bar.

I could sit here and write until my fingers fall off about all the conflicts and inconsistencies that would make it seemingly justifiable for me to go inactive -- and any one of them would probably seem sensible to 99% of those polled.

The issue that has probably been on most of our minds lately is, of course, polygamy. Specifically, the FLDS fiasco going on the U.S. right now. I've read different postings from different people, LDS and non-LDS, and I can sympathize with most of them. Here are a few of my personal thoughts on the issue.

I got up this morning and one of the first things I read in the news is that of 53 girls aged 14-17 on the FLDS ranch, 31 of them have children or are pregnant. I know that there are many factors that can be argued to make this understandable, perhaps even justifiable because of their unique faith and culture, but to be perfectly honest, I'm just not ready to accept that it's right -- in any context. I wonder if any man could relate because I honestly think you have to be female in order to truly fathom (and even then, you'd probably still come up short unless you've experienced it first-hand) what it's like to be 14-15 years old, have some guy in his 50's take you away from your family and into his bedroom, undress you, impregnate you, and then to have to go through the physical and emotional trials of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. Whether these men are perverts or not is actually not even an issue. Girls at this age should not be having sex or babies, whether it's FLDS girls, the 8 year-old in Yemen who was recently granted a divorce after being forced to have sex with her husband, or 12 and 13 year-olds in Ethiopia having their bodies literally ripped apart from childbirth and having to live with the shame of a fistula, dripping feces and urine, for the rest of their lives. Yes, I know that 12 and 13 year-olds are willingly having sex every day but darn it, how does that make it right?

I've read plenty of arguments for leaving these people alone, that the government shouldn't be meddling, that separating the children from their mothers and putting them in foster care is cruel and traumatic for them, etc, etc. I can sympathize with these arguments, particularly the last one. And yet I have to ask what choice the government has? Even if the government is violating civil rights left and right, which maybe they are, is it not worth it in order to save even just one 14 year-old from being impregnated? Some say no, I grudgingly say yes. And perhaps the only "good" reason I can give for saying yes is that I remember what I was like at 14 or 17 and can only imagine what it would have been like for me to be "Sarah" or any one of those girls. (If you're having trouble relating, read the book by Khaled Hosseini that I mentioned in my previous posting.) In my opinion, the government is damned if it does, and damned if it doesn't. I'm sure there's a good chance it may all blow up in the government's face, perhaps they won't have a case, and later on there will be a review of everything that was done wrong. On the other hand, what are the chances that years down the road people won't look back and say that the government of the United States failed countless children who were victimized in the name of religion?

So what does this have to do with me and my going or not going to church? Well, actually it has EVERYTHING to do with it.

I have trouble being one of those Mormons that believes that the LDS Church has a monopoly on the right to practice polygamy. It baffles me that many members can look at the FLDS' practice of polygamy with the same disgust that I do, if not even more, and yet have no trouble justifying it in LDS history. I think that we would like to believe it was like "Big Love" or that it was a safe haven for all the poor young widows and spinsters. If it were really like that, then really, what's not to embrace? (It might not have been for me, but maybe under the right circumstances it would have. Who knows?) The part that I will forever struggle with is why the Lord would ever want a mature man to marry a young girl, as Joseph Smith did. I'm trying to understand why it could ever be right, under any circumstances. I'd like to believe Joseph was a gentleman and I know it was a different time and I know that the laws were probably different concerning minors, but is that all it takes to make something acceptable or not acceptable? I welcome any theories or observations you may have to share.

I have asked myself repeatedly how I can continue to call myself a follower of a religion that has a lot more in common with the FLDS than any of us want to admit. The only answer I can come up with is, like I said in my blog introduction, there's more to Mormonism than meets the eye.

And just for the record, I am still going faithfully to church every Sunday, even though I'm often visited by Tonya Harding while I'm there. I don't want to have to drop the first half of my name. :)


Anonymous said...

With respect to critic Carolyn Jessop. If it is a slave cult why:

1. Did she not marry until 19?

2. Did she go to college to get a teaching certificate?

3. Does she have a beautiful large family.

Please ask Mrs. Jessop if she would like to trade her beautiful family for a LBT (low back tattoo), a bankrupt 401K and a boyfriend who will dump her for a younger, hotter babe when she turns forty?

Sanford said...

Faithful Dissident, the thing I really appreciate about your writing is that after I read something of yours I know how you feel. You’re not simply discussing something in an academic manner and taking a stand for the sake of argument, you are inviting readers to look inside of you and feel what you feel. I read a lot of commenters in the blogosphere and I know what they think and what their arguments, but with you, I know more than what your think, I know what your feel. Your writing is tangible and real. You have a gift for conveying the swirl of thought and emotion and even anguish. I wonder, do you make a living using words?

I have trouble being one of those Mormons that believes that the LDS Church has a monopoly on the right to practice polygamy. It baffles me that many members can look at the FLDS' practice of polygamy with the same disgust that I do, if not even more, and yet have no trouble justifying it in LDS history.

I too have been troubled that many LDS can so easily distinguish LDS polygamy from FLDS polygamy. It seems that to be intellectually and morally consistent you have to acknowledge the similarities. They aren’t exactly the same but they are substantially the same. Where I differ from you, perhaps due to my gender as you point out, is that I cut the FLDS a great deal of slack because I cut the LDS (and Joseph Smith) a great deal of slack. But I am, I believe, consistent. You are likewise consistent because you are generally appalled by both.

The part that I will forever struggle with is why the Lord would ever want a mature man to marry a young girl, as Joseph Smith did. I'm trying to understand why it could ever be right, under any circumstances. I'd like to believe Joseph was a gentleman and I know it was a different time and I know that the laws were probably different concerning minors, but is that all it takes to make something acceptable or not acceptable?

This may sound very simplistic, but if you can believe in God in the first place, why is belief in Joseph Smith style polygamy such a stretch. We are all products of the time place we exist in. Is it so hard to think that in another time and place you would have no problem with polygamy? So how can you be sure it is wrong now? Is it just that your gut tells you it’s wrong any time and any place and that listening to your gut is the best barometer for right and wrong?

I have asked myself repeatedly how I can continue to call myself a follower of a religion that has a lot more in common with the FLDS than any of us want to admit.

Perhaps I am totally na├»ve and irrational, but I look back to the time of my great grandparents as the golden years of Mormonism. Small agrarian communities, the united order, an intellectual climate which rewarded belief rather than cynicism and skepticism and yes, polygamy. I couldn’t have done it but I admire how those people lived. To me that was real Mormonism. And what we have now is a watered down approximation of what they had. The FLDS it seems to me, in spite of their abuses, still have a lot of the early Mormonism, and I don’t know that that is so bad, especially if you believe in what the church has taught over the years.

Bored in Vernal said...

I agree with Sanford, this is a lovely, heartfelt piece. I sympathize with much of your dissidence and ambivalence with the Church.

But please....
WHERE are these 13-year-old girls?? WHERE are these 50-year-old men that people keep referencing? I really wonder if they exist. If there is a 40 or 50 year man having sex with a 13-year-old girl, by all means, arrest him! Put a restraining order on him!! But where are the lawbreakers here?????? There seem to be only 3 girls who are pregnant, 17 or 18 years old, and in monogamous marriages to men not much older than themselves!!! America is being fed a line of crap to stir up our emotions and sanction a gross violation of civil rights.

The Faithful Dissident said...

BiV, I suppose we don't really "know" that there are any pregnant 13 year-olds married to 50year-old men, the same way I don't "know" that the Church is true. All we've got to go on is evidence and testimony, which I realize there is probably a lot of conflicting information about. But let's just assume that there is indeed a pregnant 17 year-old married to a 19 year-old. That's still statutory rape under the law, as far as I know. OK, of course their parents gave them permission to marry, but how does that make it better?

I haven't been following each detail of this unfolding story, so I will admit that I probably don't have all the facts. I have, however, seen several interviews with escapees before the recent seizure of the compound who all testify of basically the same things. Maybe they're lying, but I don't believe they are.

I realize that maybe we are being fed a lot of crap by the media. I know media has a tendency to blow things out of proportion. Later on we may find out that a lot of things weren't really true. But if even just SOME things are true, if only ONE 14 year-old is married to a man of any age, if only ONE 17 year-old is pregnant with any man's baby, it's too many. Yes, girls that age in American society get pregnant every day, but it doesn't make it right. And when you try to use your "civil rights" or "freedom of religion" as justification for making it right, then I think it's an abuse of the freedoms that Americans have made for themselves in the Constitution. I don't think that freedom of religion should give you a free pass to break the law. Once you establish a religion that perpetually breaks the law, I think it's an invitation to the government to get involved. I think the only thing that really surprises me is that it took so long.

And I can say all this being fully aware of the fact that Joseph Smith married young girls and lied about it to the government. Hence my spiritual struggle.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Sanford, I appreciate your kind words. I don't make my living by writing. To be honest, I've never been much of a writer. In school, I always struggled with creative writing because I was never good at making up stories. It comes more naturally to me to write about things that are real, or my thoughts and feelings about different topics. I think about stuff like I discuss in my blog all the time, especially about religion, politics and ethics and how they're related to each other, so I often have thoughts swirling through my mind. My main challenge is collecting them and presenting them in a written form that makes sense to others. Hopefully I'm doing an OK job at that, even though most people must wonder what the heck Nancy Kerrigan has to do with polygamy. :)

Anonymous said...

An apt analogy now that information about broken bones among the children is surfacing.

Kelton Baker said...

Anonymous said...
An apt analogy now that information about broken bones among the children is surfacing.

Texas CPS paraded that vague press release to stoke the fires of public sentiment because days later, the less sensational truth follows that no adults are not being suspected of boys' abuse and that the incidence of broken bones is no greater than other rural and farming lifestyle environments with no real accusations. Remember that critical thinking skills are necessary to follow this story.

Zelph said...

As I study church history, it amazes me the number of parallels between the FLDS and the original church under Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.

Joseph Smith was jailed, just like Warren Jeffs. The FLDS are currently being "persecuted" for their religious beliefs.

If we were members of the early church, you and I would be the ones on the other side of that gate.

The principal of the practice of polygamy was not something that was made up by the likes of the FLDS leadership. They are simply following the teachings of Joseph Smith.

Polygamy is still very much a part of Mormon doctrine as we still have D&C 132 in our scripture.

I do not believe that polygamy ever was a true doctrine. From what I have studied, I believe that it was a way for Joseph Smith to redefine what adultery is. Joseph Smith as an adult over 27 years old married several under-age girls without Emma's knowledge or consent. Joseph Smith also married himself to women that were already married to living men. These are the issues with polygamy that troubled me greatly.

The Faithful Dissident said...

See, for me, the whole adultery or pervert reasoning for Joseph Smith's implementing of polygamy just doesn't cut it. I know that he almost certainly did have sexual relations with some of the wives, at least the younger ones. But if his motive was to make adultery easier and morally justifiable for himself, what would be the purpose of marrying the women who were already married, or the older ones whom it appears he married just for the sake of being married? The majority of the marriages appear to be nothing more than a spiritual of sorts.

Of course I have no way of proving this, but I feel confident believing that he was honestly doing what he felt God was telling him to do, however painful (or not) it was for him, and that he was trying to live according to the dictates of his own conscience. That being said, I know it's still very possible that he was:

A: a pervert
B: deluded
C: a fallen prophet
D: a true prophet

Any one of these can be argued and can seem believable enough, but none of them can be proven.

The reason why I'm still a member is not because I "know everything to be true beyond a shadow of a doubt." True, I have lost my faith in a lot of things and I no longer put prophets and leaders on a pedestall. I will be the first to admit that some of the critics have a very good case and I have nothing to lend to a rebutall. However, none of these critics can come up for any explanation to all the undeniable spiritual experiences and miralces that I have witnessed in my own life and in the lives of others. Not even David Copperfield is that good.

It can be easy to get caught up in all the stuff that is inconsistent and troubling. Unfortunately, I have no remedy for that. But at the same time, there is that something I can't put my finger on that keeps me in the faith. With anything else I would have been long gone.

Zelph said...

faithful dissident-

First, let me congratulate you, as I see you have done your homework on the subject, which I would venture to say that the truth is that most members of the church know very little about church history, or the criticism. My dad, who is now a member of the church for about 45 years didn't know Joseph Smith was a polygamist until about 10 years ago. He assumed that Brigham Young started that teaching.

I personally do not believe that D&C 132 is a real revelation from God. Just from reading it I get the idea that Joseph Smith is using religion and the perception of being a prophet of God to emotionally abuse an manipulate Emma into getting on board with the idea of polygamy. However, I concede that this is my own opinion and other people can have their own opinion.

Perhaps the answer could also be all of the above.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Zelph, I would venture to guess that there are a lot of members, particularly newer converts, who are like your dad and assume that it was Brigham Young who started polygamy, or that it's just a false rumour. And who can blame them because if they only read Church publications, especially recent ones, there's nothing that talks about the practice.

I also did not know that Joseph actually practised polygamy until a few years ago when I was taking the temple prep classes. I was curious, so I flat-out asked the teacher, who is an older brother with a lot of knowledge about Church history. He told me that yes, Joseph had "many, many" wives. Before that, I had thought that although Joseph had received the revelation, it was Brigham who was the first to implement the practice.

I always find it amusing (or not) that we hear so much about Emma and no one else. It would be incredibly easy to assume that Emma was his only wife and that their marriage was an epic love story battling through all the mobs and persecution. I thought "Rough Stone Rolling" gave a fascinating (and more realistic) account of their marriage. Certainly not the happiest of marriages! And yet, like I said earlier, I honestly think that Joseph adored Emma and wished that he could escape the doctrine, or urges, depending on what you believe. It'll be interesting to see just how much of "My Story" that upcoming Emma Smith movie will tell. Will it be candid or will it be white-washed? In any case, especially after reading "Rough Stone Rolling," I'm pretty sure I know what I would have done if I were Emma: exactly what she did! I wouldn't have followed Brigham Young west and I would have wanted to start a new life for myself and my children, which she did. I probably would have followed those who became the Reorganized Church. At the time, I think it would have made more sense to me.

Another thing that I find interesting and respect about Emma is that despite all this, she had a fierce testimony of the authenticity of The Book of Mormon. I know all the theories and reasons for it being a fraud, but I have to say that coming from her, that account really stands strong.

Zelph said...

Things like polygamy and church history was always a "concern" to me, but I never gave it much thought. It is like I say, what is a big deal to some people isn't that critical to others.

Most things pertaining to church history are not the reasons that led to my disillusionment. I understand that people are not perfect, and it is unfair and I think a bit naive to think that early leaders of the church or anyone else was 'perfect'.

However, it is a concern that the church continues to "white-wash" the history and purposefully chooses to distance itself from historical facts that are not necessarily faith promoting. This in my opinion does more harm to the church than anything else because as people learn about things regarding the history of the church, they feel betrayed and lied to. I understand that the church has a duty to be spiritually uplifting, but I wish that we had special classes within the church that talked about these things. I think that is why people turn to the internet. That has been my experience, and it has made me view the church leadership as hypocrites for teaching about honesty when I feel that they are not being 100% honest with their members.

Right now, the only sources for controversial things is either the internet or books, neither are official church leadership sources. Between the two, the internet is a source much easier and faster to find information, and I would venture to say that most people will first do a Google search when they are curious about certain topics.

Have you read Fawn Brodie's "no man knows my history"? I just bought a copy, but haven't read it yet. It is another biography of Joseph Smith that takes a more critical approach. I look forward to reading it as I feel it will give me a greater understanding and a different perspective, but as I said, church history was never a main reason that led to my disaffection with the church.

The Faithful Dissident said...

I also think that there should be Church-sponsored classes or resources that help members like us tackle the troubling aspects of Mormonism. Like you said, the lack of such resources is what makes us turn to the internet. I can understand why everything isn't discussed in Sunday School because I think we need to give investigators a chance. I mean, who wouldn't run away as fast as they can if they hear in Sunday School that Joseph Smith was spending the night with young girls and not telling Emma about it? These things need to be approached the right way in order to not to sensationalize it, and yet at the same time not downplay its significance. A Church-sponsored class of sorts would be a good way for members to get the "official version" according to the Church, without having to turn to the Internet and wondering how true it is. And, as with anything else, it would be up to the individual to accept it or reject it.

I've read reviews and excerpts of "No Man Knows My Faith," but I haven't read the book itself. I suppose I would read it if I had it, but I can't imaging it being better than "Rough Stone Rolling." I know the story about Fawn Brodie and I can understand why she took the approach that she did. I'm sure she went through the same disillusionment that the rest of us go through, but from what I've read about the reviews, she took a stance and the book was like her thesis of why Joseph was a fraud, which of course led to her excommunication. What I appreciate about Bushman's work was that, while being as objective as I believe is possible for him as a practising Mormon, he tells the story, "warts and all," without making it sound like some sort of thesis he is trying to defend. But, to be fair, I haven't read Brodie's book and keep in mind that it was written many years ago. New pertinent information and theories about Joseph may have come to light since then. And the bottom line is that there are things that we will simply never know.

In any case, I'll be interested to hear your take on the book after you read it.

Anonymous said...

I was so upset about this situation when it happened. Not only because of the possible abuse but the fact that the government went in with little leg to stand on and pulled those families apart.

Many non-LDS Sisters along with me wrote about this on our own blogs and many of us pulled together in support to those mothers missing their children. I may not understand the FLDS or the LDS but I don't believe the government should stick their hands into a boiling pot until they turn down the heat.

With all the technology that we have today they should have done more research and found out exactly who was being abused. The fact that they based it all on a phone call from some women who obviously needs to find a hobby is frightening. To think that some strange person can call CPS and with no backup the government swoops in and takes your kids away is scary to me as a mother.

It must be hard when you are LDS and have to constantly defend it's past. Then having to try and convince the masses that the LDS is not the FLDS. Don't laugh but I am constantly defending the LDS to my evangelical husband! He doesn't get the seperation but I do.

Thanks for the post
God bless

truthrestored said...
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