Saturday, September 10, 2016

More Thoughts on Polygamy, Pt. 3

The more I examine LDS doctrine as an ex-member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—commonly referred to as the Mormon Church—the less sense it makes. This surprises me because, for many years, I prided myself on being a rather reflective Mormon. I wouldn’t have thought I’d miss out on so many bizarre, problematic, improbable, outlandish, or blatantly nonsensical implications. In fact, I thought Mormonism was a particularly strong religion, philosophically speaking. And I guess I probably still think that of Mormonism, but I would make a distinction between Mormonism and LDS theology. The LDS Church believes its teachings simply are Mormonism. Why, they’ve even tried to prevent other sects from calling themselves Mormon, even when those sects trace their roots back to Joseph Smith and affirm the Book of Mormon as scripture. But Mormonism, to me, is something bigger than the LDS Church, and I don’t think the LDS Church is particularly good at practicing Mormonism. There is, from my perspective, a great deal of tension between the LDS Church and Mormonism, which is why some people such as myself who fall in love with Mormonism end up leaving the LDS Church when we realize the two don’t mesh. Put simply, the LDS Church doesn’t practice the Mormonism it purports to preach.

With my current interest in polygamy quite piqued, I have realized the explanations I was given in my youth for its practice are inadequate and unpersuasive. Now, there are numerous defenses of polygamy that have been offered over the years, many of which are quite familiar to the typical LDS person. I think they have all been shown to be problematic, based on historical and demographical inaccuracies, etc. But many of these—such as the idea that polygamy was a way to offer financial support to widows—are merely pointing to the supposed benefits of polygamy. They are not really explanations for why and how polygamy got started in the first place. As far as that goes, I know of only one explanation, and it is supported by official LDS scripture: Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of Mormonism, asked God about polygamy after seeing it in the Bible and was told that it was a divine law he would be required to obey if it was revealed and explained to him. That’s why polygamy got started, if you want the official LDS narrative.

There is a glaring problem here. The supposed revelation in which God explains polygamy and tells Joseph Smith he must obey it if it’s revealed to him has been canonized as LDS scripture. It’s section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants. It’s something anybody can read. The logical implication is that every single person who reads the D&C is obligated to practice polygamy and that not doing so brings one under condemnation. Of course, Mormons actually believed this for several decades after the “revelation” was received. Early Mormon Apostle Heber C. Kimball taught, “You might as well deny ‘Mormonism,’ and turn away from it, as to oppose the plurality of wives. Let the Presidency of this Church, and the Twelve Apostles, and all the authorities unite and say with one voice that they will oppose the doctrine, and the whole of them will be damned.”1 Meanwhile, Joseph F. Smith taught at the LDS Church’s 1878 general conference, “Some people have supposed that the doctrine of plural marriage was a sort of superfluity, or nonessential to the salvation or exaltation of mankind…. I want here to enter my solemn protest against this idea, for I know it is false.” And yet, despite the fact that anyone and everyone can now read D&C 132 and learn the “law” of plural marriage, the LDS Church today forbids its practice. Apparently, knowing the law is not sufficient for having to practice it—a notion that directly contradicts the official narrative for why polygamy ever got started in the first place.

Another problem: why did the requirement to practice polygamy extend beyond Joseph Smith when he was the only one to whom it was apparently revealed? Pretend for a moment that knowing about the law of plural marriage does obligate one to live it. As I’ve always heard and understood the story, God was warning Joseph that he was getting himself into something pretty serious and deep. It was like God was saying, “You know, Joe, once you open up this can of worms, there ain’t no going back. Are you sure you want to know about this stuff?” But if polygamy is such a sensitive, sacred, and touchy thing, why did Joseph’s curiosity have to kill the whole damn institutional cat? That is, why did the obligation to practice polygamy extend beyond the one person to whom it was initially revealed, beyond the one person who was supposedly willing to take upon himself such a burden? It doesn’t really add up.

But let’s go back to the fact that practicing polygamy, in this lifetime anyway, is now prohibited by the LDS Church. As I already suggested, this doesn’t make much sense given that anybody with an LDS Doctrine and Covenants can read about the law of polygamy, and knowing about the law of polygamy is supposedly what obligated Mormons to practice polygamy in the first place. As problematic as this is, let’s ignore it for a minute. Let us ask instead, why did the (official LDS) practice of polygamy come to an end? Much can be said about this, especially as it relates to politics and the desire for Utah to be granted statehood, but what is the official LDS narrative on the matter?

Again, we can turn to the D&C. In what is termed Official Declaration 1, LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff is quoted thusly: “The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice. If we had not stopped it … confusion would reign throughout Israel, and many men would be made prisoners. This trouble would have come upon the whole Church, and we should have been compelled to stop the practice.” Woodruff proclaimed that if the Mormons continued to practice polygamy, it would come “at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church, and the confiscation of personal property of the people (all of which of themselves would stop the practice).” Never mind that, in times past, the Lord supposedly made allowances for ordinances to be performed outside of temples when circumstances required it. Never mind that, in the past, it was nearly a hallmark of being a true prophet that one would be persecuted, arrested, or both. Never mind that official LDS Church publications had previously declared, “It would be as easy for the United States to build a tower to remove the sun, as to remove polygamy, or the Church and kingdom of God.” Never mind that Woodruff himself had previously stated, “If we were to do away with polygamy ... then we must do away with prophets and Apostles, with revelation and the gifts and graces of the Gospel, and finally give up our religion altogether and turn sectarians…. We just can’t do that … come life or come death.” Never mind that LDS Church President John Taylor had also received a revelation, several years earlier, in which the Lord said of polygamy, “I have not revoked this law, nor will I, for it is everlasting, and those who enter into my glory must obey the conditions thereof, even so, Amen.”

To reiterate, the practice of polygamy was stopped, according to the official narrative, because it would cause too darn much harm to allow its continued practice.

How very ironic.

In total, polygamy was practiced in the LDS Church for approximately 60 years. It has since been practiced by various offshoots of the LDS Church for nearly twice that long. I’m not saying polygamy was a good thing during the time the LDS Church sanctioned its practice, but even if we ignore that particular time period, the harm that has been caused by polygamy ever since the LDS Church disavowed it has been monumental. Assassinations, welfare fraud, ostracizing, rape, incest, and the sexual exploitation of children are just some of the things you’ll find taking place within polygamist communities, some on a regular basis. Yes, these things also happen outside of polygamist communities, but within such communities these acts are frequently tied directly to the community’s beliefs, teachings, and culture. In the Kingston group, for example, church leaders believe their bloodline can be traced back to Jesus Christ and must be kept pure. Incestuous marriages are thus fairly common. A brief look at the FLDS Church reveals practices too disgusting and disturbing to be worth repeating. Given the official LDS narrative, then, it appears that God was okay instituting polygamy knowing these atrocities would be the result. However, God was willing to stop polygamy in order to spare Wilford Woodruff and other high-ranking church leaders from going to jail.

It sure pays to be among the elect, doesn’t it? Feel free to take a vomit break. I’ll wait.

It is indeed an outlandish story the LDS Church weaves. Polygamy was so important that Joseph Smith had to practice it. God couldn’t allow otherwise—even though God would indeed allow otherwise just 60 years later, when the practice thereof would be an inconvenience—even though it was actually quite an inconvenience when it was first practiced, but that’s precisely why God warned Joseph Smith that he was getting himself into something he couldn’t get himself out of—except that you actually can get out of it, if it’s going to cause a lot of harm—even though God’s making people practice polygamy in the first place has led to way more harm than would’ve occurred had God never forced Joseph to practice it in the first place—but, of course, God couldn’t allow Joseph not to practice it, given that He was revealing the law of polygamy to Joseph and once you know about it, you have to practice it, no matter what—except that you really don’t, apparently.

Etc., etc., ad absurdum, ad nauseum.

Ad nauseum, indeed.

1 All quotations in this blog entry, except those from the LDS Doctrine and Covenants, are conveniently located at Those wishing for original sources may find them cited there.

Friday, September 02, 2016

More Thoughts on Polygamy, Pt. 2

I’ve had a lot of thoughts swimming around in my head about polygamy. Some of them I shared in my previous post, which was hastily written and published. I expect this post will be even more scattered than the last one. I’m just trying to capture some random thoughts and observations. Make of it what you will.

At the Sunstone Symposium, a woman said the following about why she and her family had chosen to leave the FLDS polygamous group around the time that Warren Jeffs came into power: “We left because we knew what was being taught didn’t match what was in the scriptures.” This isn’t an exact quote, but is as near as I can remember it. When I heard this, I could imagine many a Mormon nodding along, thinking this woman had acted so wisely to stick to the scriptures and not listen to anyone who tried to teach something counter to their message.

Oh, the irony! I honestly think one of the key reasons I became an unorthodox Mormon (back when I was still a member of the LDS Church) was my close study of the scriptures. More and more, I saw the modern LDS Church in opposition to the scriptures. Since leaving the LDS Church, these things stand out to me even more. Taking the Lord’s name in vain? That’s exactly what I see the LDS Church doing much of the time. Drawing near to God with their lips but otherwise denying Him? The LDS Church again. Calling bad things good and good things bad? You guessed it: the LDS Church. Trusting in the arm of flesh and denying the Holy Ghost? See also, LDS Church. False idols? Have I mentioned the LDS Church? But it goes beyond the principle-based stuff I’ve mentioned. Some teachings of the LDS Church are blatant and undeniable contradictions of what you find in scripture. To cite just one example, in LDS scripture, the Lord says, “Whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall … inherit the kingdom of God…. And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock” (3 Nephi 11:33, 40). Well, according to current LDS theology, you actually have to be baptized by the right people in order to inherit the kingdom of God, and being baptized by those people only allows you to inherit one-third of the kingdom of God, while truly inheriting all that the Father has requires being baptized by a Mormon, being confirmed a member of the LDS Church by a Mormon, dutifully attending LDS Church services, receiving the priesthood (if you have a penis) or pledging that someone with a penis will always rule over you (if you have a vagina), participating in sacred (but also secret) rituals within LDS temples, having your marriage sealed in an LDS temple by a Mormon, abstaining from alcohol, abstaining from tobacco, abstaining from tea, abstaining from coffee, not making unnecessary purchases on Sundays, giving 10% of your annual income to the LDS Church, and so on. (It also used to require having more than one wife—another rule that applies only to those with a penis.) Now what did 3 Nephi 11:40 say again? “And whoso shall declare more or less than [baptism and faith in Christ], and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil.” Yeah, well. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

Going back to polygamy, I guess it annoys me when I see Mormons acting like polygamists are nuts when they themselves are guilty of so many of the same things. I mentioned last time that one of the shows I’ve been watching lately is A&E’s Escaping Polygamy. The show focuses on people fleeing from the polygamist communities in which they live. I was surprised how many people who choose to abandon polygamy nevertheless retain their fundamental religious beliefs. It’s not uncommon for the person fleeing polygamy to express a genuine concern that, because of her (or, much less often, his) choice to leave, she is going to be damned to Hell. These people are suffering so intensely that they are willing to choose eternity in Hell over life in polygamy, here and now. Super sad. Anyway, one of the main people on the show who helps others to escape—and who escaped herself from the Kingston group several years earlier—is now LDS. Maybe I’m reading into things, but I swear I’ve seen her balk at some of the comments that these former polygamists make. Not that I completely blame her. It’s wild to hear someone who has escaped the FLDS community express the belief that Warren Jeffs is a true prophet. It seems insane. But the LDS Church has a prophet, and the typical member of the LDS Church is unwilling to doubt anything that the LDS prophet says or does. The underlying mentality is the same. No, I don’t think Thomas S. Monson is a monster, and I wouldn’t want to compare him to Warren Jeffs. That’s not my point. Rather, I am comparing the unwavering confidence in and deference to church leaders that exists in both the FLDS community and the LDS Church. Thank God—literally—that Monson isn’t like Jeffs. But that doesn’t mean the LDS attitude toward church leaders is any healthier than it is in the FLDS community, at least from what I can tell. And thus it annoys me to see an LDS person roll her eyes at the “absurdity” of what an FLDS person believes.

Speaking of retained beliefs, another moment from Escaping Polygamy that stands out in my memory is when a person who had fled the FLDS Church talked about her experience meeting Warren Jeffs. Other people on the show, who had left a different polygamist group, were asking her how it felt. You could tell they expected it not to be a pleasant experience, as though the woman would have or should have sensed Jeffs’ depravity or something. But this woman, despite leaving, still believes Jeffs is a prophet. And when she talked about meeting Jeffs and shaking his hand, she described the experience as one that involved a sense of peace in her prophet’s presence. This isn’t one of those times when an LDS person scoffed, so that’s not my point. But I found it very interesting. LDS often point to feelings of peace as evidence that something is true, because they regard a feeling of peace as more or less synonymous with the presence of the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost shows up and makes you feel peaceful precisely to inform you that something is true. That’s the Holy Ghost’s #1 job. So, in the LDS world, feelings of peace are markers of what is good and right. They play an essential role in gaining a personal testimony, to converting non-Mormons to the LDS Church (“Do you feel peaceful when I share my beliefs with you? You do!? Wonderful! That’s the Holy Ghost telling you my church is the one and only completely true church on the entire planet!”), and to living life in general (“I knew I should accept the job offer because I felt peaceful about it when I prayed for guidance, so now I know God wants me to take the job.”) Well, this ex-FLDS woman felt at peace when she met Warren Jeffs. How does that make any sense on the LDS model? It doesn’t, which means the typical LDS person will point the finger of blame at the woman herself. She was confused, or she fell prey to Satan’s trickery, or something. Just as the ex-FLDS woman probably “knows” it was the Spirit giving her those feelings, LDS folk “know” it wasn’t. Call it a win-win?

Probably the most poignant episode of Escaping Polygamy, for me, was one that aired only recently. It was about yet another woman who desired to leave the FLDS Church. She had a 13-year-old daughter that she hadn’t seen in three years, despite their both being FLDS. You see, the 13-year-old daughter, at the age of 10, had been selected to be part of the “United Order.” This gave the girl something of elite status, but it also removed her from her mother’s home and effectively severed their ties. As the mom described it, she (the mom herself) wasn’t “worthy” of seeing her daughter.

I was appalled. What kind of sick and twisted belief system would tell a mother she isn’t worthy of seeing her own child? The answer hit me like a ton of bricks: the LDS belief system. No, the LDS Church doesn’t literally and physically remove children from their parents just because the children are exceptionally righteous. Not in this life, anyway. But a key part of LDS theology is that, in the afterlife, families are together only in the celestial kingdom—the top bracket of the hereafter. Thus, as far as family relationships go, what the FLDS woman was experiencing today is exactly what the LDS Church teaches could happen to you tomorrow. Even if you’re a decent person, if your children are more “righteous” than you, it is quite possible that in the next life, they will be taken from you, to live with the elite class, and will no longer even be considered your children. You will not be worthy to go where they are, and you will be separated forevermore. Your children will literally be too good for you, and you will neither deserve nor be allowed to retain the title of mother or father.

I’m sorry, but this warrants profanity: fuck that.

Maybe I sound overdramatic, but this is some seriously sick shit. Few things about the LDS Church have hit me as hard as this realization. I’ve always known this was the doctrine of the LDS Church, but somehow it took seeing such an atrocity enacted in the here and now for me to grasp just how messed up of an idea it is. Had I not spent a few minutes being horrified before I saw the connection to LDS theology, I don’t know that it would have had the same effect. We’re desensitized to what we already know. LDS theology is so familiar to me, it’s hard to see it for what it is. That’s why leaving the LDS Church has been so eye-opening. The longer I’m away, the more certain things stand out to me and I can’t for the life of me believe I never noticed them or never realized they were so damn glaring.

Okay, I guess I’m going to turn this into a three-part series. The final thing I wanted to discuss takes things in a very different direction, so I might as well make it its own post. That’s not a bad thing. This three-part series will end up practically doubling the number of posts I’ve written this year. Yay!