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!

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