Thursday, September 20, 2007

Polygamy

With all the publicity of the Warren Jeffs trial and with the new season of "Big Love" on TV I've been getting a few questions from friends and coworkers about my opinions and thoughts on polygamy. This has been an awkward subject for me and lately I've been very surprised by the sympathetic reactions I have heard from LDS friends and family members. It is not my intent to offend or hurt anyone. However I feel morally obliged to separate myself in every possible way from what I believe to be an evil practice.
I do not believe that polygamy was ever sanctioned by God. Seeing all the suffering and sorrow that has been caused by this single revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants I simply cannot accept that it came from God. It goes directly against other modern scripture. I have blogged in the past about the "fruits test". Polygamy fails this test time and time again.
Polygamy is a mathematical recipe for child abuse. When I've attempted to explain this to folks in the past it has worked best to give a simple analogy. Suppose you have a high school with a 50/50 mix of boys and girls in each grade. Now it comes time for the senior prom. If each boy can ask one girl to the prom then every senior, boy and girl will be able to attend the prom. Simple enough.
Now let's bring "plural dating" into the picture. Suppose each senior boy could ask two girls to the prom. Soon every senior girl would be asked and then the senior boys would have to start asking junior girls in order to get both of their dates.
Now let's make this analogy even closer to the real doctrine of the early LDS and the current FLDS sects.
What would happen if each of these senior boys was required to have at least three dates to the prom in order to receive their diploma? Well pretty soon every senior, junior and now sophomore girl would have a date to the prom.
Now what if we opened up this prom to the entire high school student body? Where would they go to find all the required dates? If every high school boy was indeed required to have three dates then every girl from senior down to first grade would have a date.
Creepy isn't it.
My analogy holds true when extrapolated out to real polygamist communities. In most societies the age of the wife is slightly lower than the age of the husband. Don't know why this is considering women out live men but it seems to be a good rule of thumb. I don't have any hard facts to back this up but I'd be willing to bet that in polygamist communities the average age of the husband is pretty close to the combined ages of all of his wives. If at first this statistic doesn't seem to work out please don't forget to include the men who have zero wives into you calculations. Once you've married off all the 12 and 13 year olds to older men who already have two other wives who is left for the rest of the men to marry? Nobody. In fact this is becoming a big issue as so called lost boys are being ostracized from their communities for no other reason than they are in competition for the brides.
When it first came out, I read Under the Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer. This is probably the best and most thorough book I have ever read about the many polygamist off-shoots of the LDS church. Krakauer details the violence and abuse that permeates these sects. Krakauer is fair in his depictions of current LDS positions but many LDS members felt he did not distance the behavior of the lunatic fringe from the LDS church. I think he did as best as he could under the circumstances. Let's face it; polygamy would not exist in its current form in the United States if it were not for the official actions of the LDS church in the 1800s and early 1900s. Any book on polygamy that did not detail this history would be intellectually dishonest. The book is by no means light reading. It will and should scare you a little. Introspection is a good thing to do but it's never comfortable or easy.
I've read my great-grandfathers histories. He tells of how hard it was to be child in a polygamist marriage. I've had family members long for the Millennium to come so we could "start practicing the gospel the way we're supposed to be.” referring to polygamy. I've even had an unmarried female friend of the family tell me that in the Celestial kingdom she plans on being "sealed" to my father and she was looking forward to being my other mother. I just have such a hard time making this doctrine line up with other much more important doctrines that the only way I can make peace with it is to reject it entirely. It is wrong and it always has been.
The official LDS position is simply that it is not a doctrine of the LDS church and we excommunicate members who engage in it. It would be nice to hear a much more condemning and definite statement against this evil. The current attitude in practice is nothing more than "Yeah, but we don't do that any more. Can we talk about something else?"
Wouldn't it be nice to hear something like this from the pulpit:
"The taking in marriage of more than one wife is immoral and an insult to the institution of the family. In the past the LDS church has sanctioned and performed these marriages as if they were doctrine. This evil practice made it into our doctrine only by the selfish desires of early church leaders who used scripture and supposed revelations to justify their selfish carnal desires. To this we simply and sincerely say that we are profoundly sorry. With his first step of the repentance process we now look to do everything in our power to right the wrongs that we have caused. Nothing can atone for the many decades of sadness inflicted on women and children involved in these marriages. However, we can and will take a more active role in preventing the spread of this counter-doctrinal behavior. We also invite those who have left the church or may be struggling with their testimony because of this issue to please come back to the fold. You were right and we we're wrong. We need your love and strength to help us move forward and heal."


"6 Yea, it grieveth my soul and causeth me to shrink with shame before the presence of my Maker, that I must testify unto you concerning the wickedness of your hearts.
7 And also it grieveth me that I must use so much aboldness of speech concerning you, before your wives and your children, many of whose feelings are exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate before God, which thing is pleasing unto God;" Jacob 2: 6-7

2 comments:

  1. celest2:54 AM

    When writing this, you're not even considering the other side. Stating the phenomena as evil is a very strong opinion, and should not justified unless you back it up with powerful arguments. I agree that polygamy probably would not work out in the U.S today, but it's a fact that it happens in many places of the world without any bigger problem.
    It's true that age difference is usual in many of these cultures, but this it's not in the definition of polygamy that there should be age difference, so this problem should be separated from this discussion.
    About the argument of 'plural dating', just because it's possible to date more than one woman, it doesn't make it obligatory. All boys don't have to date 3 girls each. This problem with uneven numbers also takes place in normal schools.
    How the children experience the situation of being born into a family of polygamy, I think, mostly depends on how they are treated in the family and by others. This might be a problem in places where polygamy is unusual, and could lead to bullying etc. but in places where it's usual it would be thought of as natural.
    When it comes to the women, they might not be equally treated by their husband and this is a problem. Many women do not themselves decide who they are marrying and therefore they can be forced into this kind of marriage. If they instead would themselves decide if they wanted to be a part of a family of polygamy, it would be o.k.
    Polygamy in itself is not something evil, but the circumstances under which it is practiced is always fair for all parties. If polygamy was only an optional thing for both women and men it would not be much of a problem.

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  2. "When writing this, you're not even considering the other side."
    There is enough apologetic 'research' already posted online in support of polygamy. I have read much of it. Most of these articles start with the premise that polygamy was officially sancioned by the LDS church and then seek to justify why it would have been. This logic is backwards. You don't come up with conclusions before you've done the research. My intent was to distance myself from it not add support to this flawed logic.

    "Stating the phenomena as evil is a very strong opinion, and should not justified unless you back it up with powerful arguments." I've given several powerful arguments and even cited some of the books and news reports. You youself conceeded that it wouldn't work in the US today. I have read every book I can find on the subject and several personal histories. I have news agregators forward me any online article with polygamy in the text as soon as they are posted.

    "It's true that age difference is usual in many of these cultures, but this it's not in the definition of polygamy that there should be age difference, so this problem should be separated from this discussion." No, it shouldn't be separated from the discussion. The chld abuse aspect is my most powerful claim that it is evil. True, the doctrine does not require the age difference, but simple math does. In a closed society where the number and ages of each gender are roughly equal you either have to lower the age of the availible girls or increase the ratio of girls to men. As I've shown FLDS sects do both.

    "About the argument of 'plural dating', just because it's possible to date more than one woman, it doesn't make it obligatory." This is an anology that does accuarately reflects the doctrine of current FLDS sects. It IS obligitory. They DO require at least three.

    "This problem with uneven numbers also takes place in normal schools." Thank you for posting this statement. it adds to the strngth of my anaology.

    "Polygamy in itself is not something evil, but the circumstances under which it is practiced is always fair for all parties. If polygamy was only an optional thing for both women and men it would not be much of a problem."
    Allow me to respond in your own words. Stating the phenomena as NOT evil is a very strong opinion, and should not justified unless you back it up with powerful arguments. The only word I changed was to add NOT. You have provided no evidence or powerful arguments in support of your position.

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