Sunday, April 20, 2008

Re-Visiting the Polygamy Debate

After expressing some opinion here recently about the fiasco in Texas with the FLDS church I've spent a fair amount of time trying to really educate myself about what is going on in that community. I read Carolyn Jessops book "Escape" - she grew up in Colorado City, married a much older man, had 8 kids, and eventually fled to Salt Lake taking her children with her. Her oldest daughter left and went back to the polygamist lifestyle even after going to high school in salt lake for a couple of years. (I mention that because I think most people would imagine that a teenage girl, having tasted the freedom of "normal life" would not choose to return to that insular community and lifestyle...but she did). Many of the women mentioned in that book, Carolyn's sister wives, are now in Texas in the FLDS YFZ Ranch complex. And their children have been taken.

Here is my dilemma:

1. I think the FLDS church under Warren Jeffs has become a messed up situation - I think he's possibly quite a very evil man.

2. While I believe there are many things about this life style I disagree with - I keep thinking that it's wrong to persecute or prosecute these people for their religious beliefs - which I think, is in a sense, what is happening.

3. I don't think teenage girls should be forced in to marriage. I think it's wrong. I hate to see women being used as 'property' and think that's what polygamy can de-volve into.

4. Teenage girls all over this country get pregnant at young ages all the time, in all kinds of neighborhoods. They just don't happen to be fundamentalist polygamist families. And do we take away all the children of any family where this kind of thing happens? How about we take their close friends and neighbors children? This is what it seems is happening here. 415 children taken. Do we really think every single one of those children is better off NOT being with their mothers? I just can't buy into this theory.

5. I think the state of Texas is going to find itself in a lot of legal trouble over this situation. Ultimately, I think they went in there based on a false phone call. There's no evidence this girl exists. But there is evidence of a woman here in Arizona making these kinds of phone calls erroneously.

6. As much as I was sickened by some of what I read in Carolyn Jessops book - I also couldn't help but think as I read it about how many of these women in these polygamist families are really good people just trying to do what they think is right.

7. I haven't seen a single shred of evidence that the bed in the temple was used to have sex with anyone. All that's been reported in the media regarding that bed has been hearsay "he said someone else said they heard from somebody". They have said the bed is for nothing of the sort. In the St. George temple there was a bed for years for tired workers to use. I asked my mom and she said they have a sort of cot/bed in the temple where she and my dad work in case someone isn't feeling well or needs to lie down for a while. It's not that weird that they would have a bed there.

8. There was record of a lot of young girls married to old guys. No matter how you look at it that is just creepy.

Ultimately, I just find myself confused about what is really in the best interest of the people involved.

At the hearing one of the women begged to have her daughter back and she promised she would leave the polygamist lifestyle and support herself on her own if she could just have her 7 year old daugther back.

The judge denied her request. Her daughter will remain in foster care.

These images taken in the past few years by Salt Lake Tribune photographer Trent Nelson are so powerful:
This is a 'big love' polygamist family in Salt Lake City. Three wives. This is one wife holding the birthday cake, the other wife blowing out her candles and wife number three is in the backgound watching.
FLDS community in Canada (they have a large group up there too) baking their daily bread.

An FLDS girl catches a salamander and shows it to photographers in the Canadian community

FLDS women in Texas after their children are taken

Courthouse in Texas
Convicted "prophet" of the FLDS church Warren Jeffs - who has fathered around 100 children

A woman testifies at the Jeffs trial

Polygamist Couple
Travel on the roads at Short Creek (Colorado City and Hildale)

Polygamist Family

polygamist children playing

Polygamist young men on their "mission" - where they work construction and do service hours.
Polygamist home behind walls

Kids play at home in Short Creek
Polygamist mom and her daughter go for a hike near Short Creek.


Anonymous said...

Warning! Point by tanner-tedious point response begins now:
1) More than quite possibly; the power and dominion assumed in one man is absolute over all themes of flds life - financial, physical, educational, cultural, political and spiritual. There is no allowance for individual rights, no checks and balances for what the 'prophet' decrees.

2) We of necessity must try to define religion in this instance. Jim Jones successfully built a small empire of devotees who were very certain they had found utopia, at first. Relocating to S.America further alienated his followers from reality as they literally were swallowed up in a tropical jungle with zero accountability to anyone but Jones, their 'prophet' and eventually, self-declared "messiah reincarnate". The cyanide koolaide moment for 900+ suicide/homicides in the name of Jim Jones as the Divine gruesomely underscores the fact his was not a religion, but a cult. By definition cult tactics thrive on systematic indoctrination and mind control. Isolation from the rest of society is another popular rite of passage for successful cult manipulations. Today we have Scientology exposed; but the Rev. Moon had his day, as did the Branch Davidians and the mothership group that checked-out with quarters in their pockets...The convenient title of Religion cannot be a white-wash for abuse.

3)The use of the word 'de-volve' in association with 'polygamy' suggests to me that you are associating current practices with those of our progenitors. This is unreliable, because there is exceedingly little comparable on equal terms other than a man with more than one wife. See for an applicable & concise commentary on the Tom Green case a few years ago.

4) True, Teen pregnancy being the social dilemma of our time - but those pregnancies are not the result of forced/indoctrinated compulsion to engage in a marriage w/o consent, AND within the clear restrictions of a walled, rifle-toting guarded compound. That is the distinct difference between our neighborhood community and theirs.
If a crime had been committed in our neighborhood, the police would search our homes individually if there was reason to believe the suspect(s) had taken refuge here.
Because we do not know the extent of abuses within this closeted community, we also do not know if their mothers are the care-givers in the best interest of the child. Until evidence shows otherwise, as painful as it may be, it may also be the most prudent course to investigate thoroughly exactly what is going on under the guise of worship.

5) True, and yes. However, there is enough suspicion regarding human rights violations and other illegalities to investigate, regardless of if the phone call in question was an actual eye-witness. There are hundreds of defectors and cruelly expelled young males from these groups in addition to notorious "avenging angel" style murder intrigues between rival groups that are fully documented and credible.

6) You are very generous. The more direct question might be: To what extent are these people allowed to exercise free-will? Only a monster would not love her child...but is this a mother who is so brainwashed or afraid of retribution that she is a devoted indoctrinator of her children that they will burn in Hell if they do not marry at 13 or 14? All expatriates describe terror of eternal damnation as a major psychological distraction until they could feel safe enough to "assimilate" into our world. Did you know the current Texas compound was founded with about 200 children under the age of 4 - selected for their mailable age and taken from their birth families and given to "new" family assignments? I suspect many of these good mothers are too frightened or entrenched in cult practices to be able to make independent decisions or even have the wherewithal to determine what is right or wrong anymore.

7) The bed issue is fairly irrelevant when you consider the limited gene-pool of incestuous procreation that begs inspection. I read an article in the Smithsonian a couple years ago about a severely degenerative disease unique to the UT/AZ border town polygamist sects - and the PA Amish communities. Rare enough, some of the communities welcomed the researchers only because they were so desperate to find help for their children who were being born increasingly more and more disabled; sometimes 3 or 4 in a family.

8) These are indeed powerfully emotional images. I just wonder how motivated we would be if we had images available to give animation to what escapees have been saying all along.
Our friend in CA couldn't even go home to Colo.City for a family member's funeral without being subjected to a personal search by multiple men with rifles at the ready. Her husband was not allowed in, (had to wait @ the highway)since he was not blood related. That was 20 years ago.

Hopefully there will be a positive resolution to these shattered lives, and we can only pray the sooner the better. May the state of Texas be inspired to do justice, and may the good people who receive these children temporarily treat them with angel patience and love.

I reiterate: this is NOT the Priesthood veracity of our fore fathers. This is not the Faith nor courage of our free-thinking fore mothers. I can empathize with the social plight of these closed societies operating for so long without accountability - it had to come to a head some time. It might as well be now, when there are so many young children who might be spared from continuing the bondage cycle of their bitter birthright.

Cynthia said...

Wow, I find I am not such a deep thinker. I'm looking at the photos and just wondering why the men get to wear regular jeans and shirts while the women have to wear pioneer garb.

Bandanamom said...


I'm still not convinced.

I admit that I do not believe that these people belong to a 'true' religion. And I fully admit that Warren Jeffs particularly has run this group dangerously towards the Jim Jones style of group-think. However, there are many other polygamist groups in Utah which are not in any way connected with the FLDS, yet in the Judge from Texas' mind I'm not sure she could see the distinction. Frankly, I don't think she sees much of a distinction between the FLDS and the LDS. Yesterday she ordered the local LDS Stake to oversee the prayers of the FLDS woman and children locked in the arena. WHAT? That's right, she says 'although not the same religion' but then goes on to ask the Stake President there to come in and deal with these 'mormons'. You havn't convinced me that the persecution of this group is not just a hairs breadth away from persecution of any group with similar characteristics.

And though I totally agree that there are definitely problems within this community - I am still unclear as to the supposed bright line between this group and my ancestors.

I have polygamist ancestors on both sides of my family. My little community outside of Rexburg Idaho is full of 'cousins' - my mother would introduce me to someone at church and say "This is Eva - she's our cousin' and then I would get an explanation as to which wife of Great Grandpa Jensen her family came from. This was totally normal to me.

My polygamist ancestors did the following:

1. Isolated themselves in a small community where the government wouldn't bother them.

2. Did what ever the prophet said including taking a new wife when my Great Grandfather didn't particularly want to nor did the woman in question particularly want to get married.

3. Work the hell out of the kids and wives in the fields, houses, raising animals, etc. It was a tough life.

4. Had a LOT of kids.

5. Tried to avoid both prosecution and persecution by the government.

6. Disciplined their children in ways that we would consider quite harsh today. There was a stern way of living - including barely celebrating Christmas - that is very reminiscent of the way the FLDS conduct themselves.

7. Barely, if at all, obeyed the word of wisdom much in the way the FLDS seem to see it.

8. In addition, if you were a woman back then there was no calling 911, getting police protection, calling up Tapestry to help you get out. Those were not options. Your only option was to do your best to make it work, grin and bear it.

Tell me exactly where (besides the obvious point of them not having a 'true' prophet) the differences are, because I'm having a hard time seeing them. I pretty well read up on all these different groups and I defintely think the FLDS are the group most 'off the rails' but some of these groups seem to be making the system work quite well.

Why are we punishing woman and children if it's the men who are in charge? Round up all the men if you want but why punish these women? If the environment is as controlling and messed up as we think it is how can we see them as anything but victims?

It is my understanding, based on what I have read, including Carolyn Jessops book that teen pregnancy is still quite uncommon in this group. Teen marraiges, while they do happen, are uncommon as well. I'm not saying I am comfortable with teen marraiges - but I knew a lot of girls in my small Idaho community who were married at 16 (and a few of them were married at 16 in the temple). This was definitely accepted and encouraged. In our small mormon community it would have been worse to be unmarried at 24 than married at 16. Being unmarried at 24 was the kiss of death - you were an old maid.

All I am saying is I think there is a slippery slope here and I'm not comfortable with where the State of Texas is taking us.

Even though Carolyn Jessops - who fled in the middle of the night with her 8 children- is quite harsh in her assesment of the FLDS community, she still claims that she was relatively happy in the community as a child. She had a good childhood for the most part (though she does claim some issues with her mother, she has none with her polygamist father) and she is very generous towards the two prophets prior to Warren Jeffs. And she was married to the Jessops guy who is running this YFZ Ranch - many of these children are the half siblings of her children. Though she is harsly critical of her ex 'husband' and many of the men running the community, she is understandable compassionate towards many of these woman and children. After all - had she not left the community, she would be one of them, and her children would have been taken. It's things like this that make me feel it's totally unfair to paint the entire community with the brush of child abuse.

rachel said...

I agree with you Lezlee. I think it was wrong to take those children away. I think there had to have been a better option. Anything. This whole fiasco reminds me of those Japanese concentration camps we had during the second World War. The government was pushing their authority so much so that it infringed on the rights of its citizens, for the protection of others. Peaceful maybe, but still just plain wrong. Yes, there are individuals in this community being marred by polygamy. However, what Texas has done, doing something on this grand of a scale, almost guarantees that there will be many mistakes and wrong decisions made in the process of putting it all back together.


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