The Faithful Meaning of Adultery

In a previous post, I promised to elaborate some more on Adultery.  It is among the dirtiest of words in the English language.  It conjures up thoughts of the most serious kind of betrayal.  There is perhaps no more serious a crime than the treachery of betrayed trust.  Indeed, Dante places it at the very bottom of the pit – the 9th and very lowest circle of Hell.  In Genesis 20:9 adultery is referred to as, “[the] great sin“.  It is important then that we know what constitutes this great sin.

Inferno 3
Sandro Botticelli’s The Abyss of Hell (a chart based on Dante’s 14th-century epic poem Inferno)

Image result for mormon doctrine first editionThis is especially true perhaps in the case of polygamists, who are accused of committing this heinous sin by virtue of their marriages.  For example, the last paragraph  under the entry “Plural Marriage” in the book Mormon Doctrine, by Bruce McConkie, said, “Any who pretend or assume to engage in plural marriage in this day [when the President of the LDS Church has forbidden it], are guilty of gross wickedness.  They are living in adultery, have already sold their souls to Satan, and (whether their acts are based in ignorance or lust or both) they will be damned in eternity.”  These are strong accusations to make.

First of all, let us establish that God has very clearly commanded,

Exodus 20:14  “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

It is the 7th commandment, and violation of this prohibition brought the most serious of consequences.  As for punishment, there is no difference between the sexes, it was to be punished by DEATH for both parties (Leviticus 20:10).  Certainly then we would want to know what constitutes this grave sin, so that we may utterly eschew it.

What is adultery?  The answer to this question may seem simple, and indeed it is.  And yet, the answer may nevertheless still surprise many people.  Of course, as God is the author of this law, we ought to consult the scriptures for an answer.  But first, let us look at the present usage of the word.

Unfortunately, the modern notions of what constitutes adultery have strayed in a very significant way from the original meaning of the word.  Of this grammatical apostasy, some will say that the Biblical definitions of words, such as ‘adultery‘, are not as relevant in these modern times, with our modern understanding, and our modern morality.  To this I would reply, that the Bible is the very reason that ‘adultery‘ is even in our vocabulary.  It is the Biblical teachings on the matter that are the source of our conceptual understanding of this topic.  The Bible is foundational to our notions about the immorality of adultery in the first place.  Furthermore, no matter what the modern understanding of a word may be, we must understand the original, Biblical meanings of words in order to understand the Biblical stories, teachings, and commandments.  As in all things, context is crucial.  Let us be faithful to the word.

Here is the modern definition of adultery from some well-respected dictionaries:

Adultery:

Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than that person’s current spouse or partner.  – Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse. – Oxford Dictionary

Sex between a married man or woman and someone he or she is not married to.            – Cambridge Dictionary

Certainly language evolves, and this is not necessarily a bad thing.  It is expected as our world changes.  There are constantly new things and new situations that need to be described.  Perhaps these definitions wouldn’t bother me so much if they stated that they were strictly modern definitions and that the original meaning of the word was something else.  Without this sort of disclaimer, people will interpret ancient occurrences of the word in the incorrect light of a modern definition.  Case in point: dictionary.com used to include the biblical definition of adultery on its “adultery” page, but that section was deleted just recently (sometime between March and May of 2017).

Here are some older definitions of the word:

Violation of the marriage bed; a crime, or a civil injury, which introduces, or may introduce, into a family, a spurious offspring.  By the laws of Connecticut, the sexual intercourse of any man, with a married woman, is the crime of adultery in both.        – Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

Black’s Law Dictionary (5th ed.) starts with the modern definition, but then adds:

In some [US] states, however, as was also true under the Roman and Jewish law, this crime is committed only when the woman is married to a third person.

I like the wording of these definitions very much. In the Webster’s 1828, it says that Adultery may introduce spurious offspring into a family; thus, adultery requires the woman to be married (i.e. she is part of a family).  To adulterate a thing is to corrupt it by adding something foreign to it – to add or mix something with it that would not normally be mixed with it.  To do so is to commit adultery.   The adulterer is adding his seed to another man’s wife, and potentially his offspring to another man’s family.

Whether or not adultery has been committed depends exclusively on the marital status of the woman.  The marital status of the man has nothing to do with it.  He may be married or single, divorced or widowed; it is all inconsequential.  Let me be very clear and precise: adultery happens when a married (or betrothed) woman voluntarily has sex with a man who is not her husband (or her betrothed).  That is the simple, scriptural meaning of the crime of adultery.  This does not mean that only women can commit adultery!  Both parties are equally guilty, and the punishment is the same for both.

Let’s compare these common definitions with the definitions from a selection of Bible Dictionaries.  As you read these you’ll get the impression that one of these things is not like the other…

Adultery:

Conjugal infidelity. An adulterer was a man who had illicit intercourse with a married or a betrothed woman, and such a woman was an adulteress.  – Easton’s Bible Dictionary (1897)

Adultery was understood as sexual intercourse between a man and another man’s wife or betrothed woman. Similarly, any act of coition between a married woman and a man who was not her husband was also regarded as adultery.  – Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (1996)

The parties to this crime, according to Jewish law, were a married woman and a man who was not her husband.  – Smith’s Bible Dictionary (1884)

The unlawful association of men and women. Although generally having reference to illicit activity of married persons, the scripture often does not distinguish between the married and the unmarried.  – LDS Bible Dictionary (1979)

A few things stand out to me as I read these definitions.  First, I am very pleased with the descriptions given in the first three dictionaries.  And yet, with this correct understanding of scripture, it makes me wonder in disbelief, how there can be such a generally vehement opposition to polygamy from the Christian community at large.

The other thing that stands out to me is the LDS definition.  It just makes me shake my head.  What are they talking about, “the scripture often does not distinguish between the married and the unmarried”??  Every single instance of adultery in the scripture where the marital status of either party is mentioned makes reference to the marriage or betrothal of the woman.  Every single one.  Here are several examples:

Leviticus 20:10And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wifeeven he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”

Proverbs 2:16-19 “Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth [i.e. her husband] and ignored the covenant she made before God.”

Proverbs 5:3,20 “For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil…Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?”

Proverbs 6:26-32 “For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adulteress will hunt for the precious life.  Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?  Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goeth in to his neighbour’s wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent.  Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry…But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul.”

Jeremiah 29:23 “Because they have committed villany in Israel, and have committed adultery with their neighbours’ wives, and have spoken lying words in my name, which I have not commanded them; even I know, and am a witness, saith the Lord.”

Ezekiel 16:32 “But as a wife that committeth adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband!”

Hosea 3:1 “The LORD said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.'”

Hosea 4:13-14 “They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills… your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses [feminine noun] shall commit adultery.  I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your spouses [feminine noun] when they commit adultery: for themselves are separated with whores, and they sacrifice with harlots: therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall.”

Romans 7:2-3 “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth… So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.”

In light of this fact (that every instance where marital status is explicitly mentioned in connection with adultery the woman is married to another man), we can use this as a key to understand two other cases of scriptural references.  The first case is when adultery is not explicitly mentioned, and second case is where marital status is not explicitly mentioned.  Here is an example of the first case:

Genesis 20:2-6,9 “…Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah.  But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife…and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?  Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.  And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.  Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin?”

No where in these verses is adultery explicitly mentioned, and yet we know this is the sin that both God and Abimelech are speaking of (and the sin which Abimelech was spared from committing) – because of Sarah’s marital status.  Abimelech took Sarah with the intention to make her his wife, thinking that she was unmarried.  In verse 17 we read that Abimelech was already married, and yet both God and Abimelech knew that what he was planning was with “integrity”.

Here is another example of the first case.  What is the difference between these verses in Deuteronomy and this verse in Exodus?

Deuteronomy 22:22 “If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman:”

Deuteronomy 22:23-24 “… If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die… so thou shalt put away evil from among you.”

Exodus 22:16  “And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.”

The difference between the outcome of these verses is the marital status of the woman.  The situations in Deuteronomy are clearly adultery, for the woman is either married or betrothed, and the penalty is correspondingly harsh.  The situation in Exodus describes a woman who is neither married nor betrothed, and the consequence is correspondingly light.  I don’t know if I would even call this a punishment (altho I did in a previous post for humorous effect).  It is also of note that the marital status of the man, in all these verses, is entirely inconsequential.  He may be single or married; the consequence is the same either way.

As for the second case, here are some examples where there is no explicit mention of marital status.

Exodus 20:14  “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

Deuteronomy 5:18  “Neither shalt thou commit adultery.”

However, we must interpret these verses in light of the rest of scripture.  By using the term adultery there is an implicit mention of the marital status of the woman.  The  very word adultery implies the woman involved is married (or betrothed) and having sex with a man other than her husband (or her betrothed).

One scripture commonly used to make accusations about polygamy being adulterous is:

Matthew 5:27-28  “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

Those making this accusation feebly reason that a man must have lusted after subsequent wives, and is therefore guilty of adultery.  However, they condemn themselves as well since the marital status of the man is not mentioned by Jesus.  They fail to grasp that by their own understanding of Jesus’ words, an unmarried man looking for a wife is just as guilty as a married man looking for an additional wife.

Indeed, I have known several monogamous people (both men and women) who have wondered whether they are guilty of committing adultery since they have “lusted” after their own spouse.  Of course, they are not guilty of anything (in this regard), but there are several problems with their interpretation that led them to this faulty conclusion:

  • First, even if they were “guilty” of “lusting”, it would not be of adultery; it would be of “adultery in their heart”, which (altho it is still a sin) is not the same thing as committing adultery with your body.  Hopefully this is self-evident to every reader and can be left without further discussion.
  • Second, the word lust is not merely sexual in meaning.  Certainly lusts can include sexual desires, but in this context, and in most other contexts in the scriptures, a better term might be covet.  Coveting is all about wanting something that is not yours.  It is about wanting your neighbor’s things.  This saying of Jesus is as much about the 10th commandment as it is about the 7th.  He is reaffirming the command, “thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife” (Exodus 20:17), and, “Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife” (Deuteronomy 17:21).  Coveting your neighbor’s wife is the adultery in the heart that Jesus is referring to.
  • But how do we know that the woman he is talking about is a married woman?  Because he uses the word adultery, and as we have seen, adultery always involves a married woman.  This is the third point of common misunderstanding with these verses.

Many common English Bible translations use the potentially ambiguous term, woman, in Jesus’ saying quoted above, but this word is only ambiguous to our modern understandings.  Ancient readers knew that the women Jesus was saying not to lust after were other men’s wives.

Reformation Day was last week, and this year my family studied the life and contributions of William Tyndale.  The man was a chosen servant in the hand of God, and his contributions to the world are undervalued by a large margin.  He is the man who gave God an English voice, and he did a beautiful job at it.  Here are those verses in Matthew from Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the New Testament:

Tyndale

If you had some difficulty reading that “English” text, have no fear, here it is with modernized spelling and punctuation:

     Ye have heard how it was said to them of old time, thou shalt not commit advoutry [adultery].  But I say unto you, that whosoever eyeth a wife, lusting after her, hath committed advoutry [adultery] with her already in his heart.

Tyndale hit the nail exactly on the head!

Those who make accusations of adultery had better beware of what they do lest they find themselves in violation of the 9th commandment.

Exodus 20:16  “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”

Violating this commandment may be more serious than it seems.  The Law requires the false accuser to receive the punishment appropriate to the accused crime.

Deuteronomy 19:18-19  “And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you.”

In other words, if a person falsely accuses another person of a capital offense, the punishment for the false accuser is also death.

May we all speak with understanding and not with ignorance, and may we be cautious in making accusations of wrongdoing.

When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.  – Proverbs 10:19

Reformation Day (or What Martin Luther Thought of Polygamy)

On the 31st day of October, in the year 1517 AD, the Catholic monk, Martin Luther, nailed his famous 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints Chapel in Wittenberg, Germany.  luter_marcinThe 95 Theses were 95 points of debate, question, and criticism of the Church’s teaching and practice of selling letters of indulgence.  In other words, they were selling forgiveness of sins (even sins that had not yet been committed), for money.

Here is a selection of some of Luther’s  95 Theses:

21) Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.

27 & 28) They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.

32) Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.

36 & 37) Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.
Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.

41-43) Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.
Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy.
Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.

45-51) Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God’s wrath.
Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.
Christians are to be taught that the buying of indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.
Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money.
Christians are to be taught that papal indulgences are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them.
Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.
Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.

79) To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.

82) “Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?” The former reason would be most just; the latter is most trivial.

86) “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?”

94 & 95) Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22).

The 95 Theses was not his only criticism of the corruption and apostasy he saw in the Church.  For these criticisms he was called to a tribunal before the Diet (Assembly) of Worms with the Emperor, Charles V, presiding.  There he was asked to recant his writings.

His response was, “If I recant those books, I will do nothing but add strength to tyranny, and open not only the windows but also the doors to this great ungodliness [speaking of the corruption in the Church].” He went on to say,

I am but a man, and I can err, but let my errors be proven by scripture.  Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the scripture or by clear reason, and not by the words of the Pope or of councils which have so often contradicted themselves, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything.  To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other.  May God help me. Amen.

These words were his death sentence.  The Pope (Leo X) issued a decree for his arrest and punishment.  Fortunately, Luther was taken into hiding by Prince Frederick the Wise at Wartburg Castle where he worked to produce a common language text (German) of the Bible so that the common man could have access to the Word of God.  The actions of Martin Luther were key to the Christian Reformation, and the nailing of his 95 Theses to the chapel door, which was a catalyst for the Reformation, is celebrated on this day (Reformation Day, October 31st).

Incidentally, Joseph Smith was very fond of Luther’s translation.  He often quoted from it in his sermons and said of it, “I have an old edition of the New Testament in the Latin, Hebrew, German and Greek languages. I have been reading the German, and find it to be the most [nearly] correct translation, and to correspond nearest to the revelations which God has given to me for the last fourteen years.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 349)

Lutherrose.svgFor Martin Luther, the scriptures were primary to the foundation of his faith.  He rejected the “traditions of the elders”, and relied solely on the authority of the Word of God to inform the tenets of his faith.

What does all this have to do with polygamy?  The freedom of both thought and action that were spawned by the Reformation allowed previously “heretical” or suppressed ideas in the scriptures to come again to light, to be discussed, debated, and even to be adopted as part of individual faith. Among these topics was the idea of polygamy.  Speaking on this topic Martin Luther wrote:

I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture. If a man wishes to marry more than one wife he should be asked whether he is satisfied in his conscience that he may do so in accordance with the Word of God. In such a case the civil authority has nothing to do in the matter.”

Letter to Chancellor Gregory Bruck, January 13, 1524
(De Wette II, 459, pp. 329, 330)

In fairness, it must be mentioned that Luther was not in favor of the general adoption of polygamy as a Christian form of marriage.  Indeed, he advised that it be reserved for extreme situations where the first wife was ill, etc.  However, he freely admitted that his objection to the general practice of polygamy by Christians was not based on any prohibition found in the words of scripture, but rather founded on social reasons; that scandal may be avoided, and that offenses be not given.  He quoted St. Paul saying, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient” (1 Cor. 6:12)

Even so, his views towards polygamy remained, shall we say, “permissive” throughout his life.  Sixteen years after the letter to Chancellor Buck, quoted above, Luther and other Reformation leaders were found giving their consent to the plural marriage of Prince Phillip of Hesse.  A fact which has proven an embarrassment to many Protestants since, and is considered to be one of Luther’s “warts”.

Not too surprisingly, Brigham Young had favorable things to say about Martin Luther (and Mormons in general view him, and all the reformers, in a very positive light – and not necessarily for his views on polygamy):

“We have been told a great many times that polygamy is not according to Christianity. The Protestant reformers believed the doctrine of polygamy. Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, one of the principal lords and princes of Germany, wrote to the great reformer Martin Luther and his associate reformers, anxiously imploring them to grant unto him the privilege of marrying a second wife, while his first wife, the princess, was yet living. He urged that the practice was in accordance with the Bible, and not prohibited under the Christian dispensation. Upon the reception of this letter, Luther, who had denounced the Romish church for prohibiting the marriage of priests, and who favored polygamy, met in council with the principal Reformers to consult upon the letter which had been received from the Landgrave. They wrote him a lengthy letter in reply, approving of his taking a second wife, saying,

‘There is no need of being much concerned for what men will say, provided all goes right with conscience. So far do we approve it, and in those circumstances only by us specified, for the gospel hath neither recalled nor forbid what was permitted in the law of Moses with respect to the marriage. Jesus Christ has not changed the external economy, but added justice only, and life everlasting for reward. He teaches the true way of obeying God, and endeavors to repair the corruption of nature.’

This letter was written at Wittemburg, the Wednesday after the feast of St. Nicholas, 1539, and was signed by Martin Luther, Philip Melancthon, Martin Bucer, and five other Reformers, and was written in Melancthon’s own handwriting.

The marriage was solemnized on the 4th of March, 1540, by the Rev. Denis Melanther, chaplain to Philip. Philip’s first wife was so anxious ‘that the soul and body of her dearest spouse should run no further risk, and that the glory of God might be increased,’ that she freely consented to the match.

This letter of the great Reformers was not a hasty conclusion on their part that polygamy was sanctioned by the gospel, for in the year 1522, seventeen years before they wrote this letter, Martin Luther himself, in a sermon which he delivered at Wittemburg for the reformation of marriage, clearly pronounced in favor of polygamy.

These transactions are published in the work entitled, ‘History of the variations of the Protestant churches.’

Ladies and gentlemen, I exhort you to think for yourselves, and read your Bibles for yourselves, get the Holy Spirit for yourselves, and pray for yourselves, that your minds may be divested of false traditions and early impressions that are untrue.”  June 18, 1865, Journal of Discourses 11:127

We owe a large debt of gratitude to the great man, Martin Luther, and to William Tyndale, and John Wycliffe, and Jan Hus, and to all the other brave men and women of the Reformation who risked both their lives and their fortunes to live and teach the Truth as they saw it.  They sowed some of the first seeds of religious freedom, and tho the crop is slow in growing, we are still reaping the benefits of their labors today.

HAPPY REFORMATION DAY!

When Men Become Gods (book review)

I just finished reading the book When Men Become Gods: Mormon Polygamist Warren Jeffs, His Cult of Fear, and the Women Who Fought Back, by Stephen Singular.

The book moves from the narrative of Joseph Smith in 1820 and walks the reader through the roots and evolution of the FLDS Church. Since I have not spent much time studying the FLDS Church (or the history of other fundamentalist Mormon sects, for that matter), the book filled in several gaps in my knowledge of the history and connections between the groups and the families involved, as well as the context of the infamous 1953 Short Creek raid and some understanding of how Warren Jeffs ended up in charge of the FLDS Church. My husband Joshua is pretty much an expert on the different Mormon groups, both “fundamentalist” and otherwise, so I am always the weak link in our discussions on those topics. I’m glad I read this book and I hope I can find others to read that are just as interesting and informative. If you have any suggestions, let me know.

Warren Jeffs was arrested in 2006 and convicted (the first time) in 2007. The book was published just a few weeks after Jeffs’s sentencing, so the narrative ends rather abruptly with a courtroom scene; it doesn’t go into any of the FLDS drama that has happened in the last 10 or 11 years.

I felt like the (obviously non-Mormon) author was fair in his treatment of the doctrines and the stories. He helps the reader understand what the terrible problems were in Short Creek. Polygamy itself is not actually on that list.

The book says that in 1953, when Governor Pyle organized the raid,

The governor had made several miscalculations — but one was huge. The press had known of the coming raid but held off reporting on it until it took place. Now the media repeatedly showed heartrending images of families torn apart by law enforcement, with FLDS men being hauled off to jail as their wives cried and reached out for the children they’d just been separated from. Photos from that time show the adult males of Short Creek being treated no differently from thieves or murderers. Confronted with these pictures, the public confounded the governor and began to feel sympathy for the people of Short Creek. What right did Arizona have to tell these folks how to live? They weren’t harming anyone, so why not just leave them alone? Neither polygamy itself nor the problems surrounding it were as black and white as the governor had imagined (both then and now, some women much prefer plural marriage to conventional matrimony). There was more to life in The Crick than sexual license.

When I first picked up the book, I assumed that the author would demonize polygamy the way so many people in my life have done. I was pleasantly surprised at the neutral writing and I appreciate that the book was sprinkled with notes like the one above.

The trial itself was also amazingly neutral about polygamy and religion. It sounded like the judge did a fantastic job of making sure the jury understood and focused on the crime at hand: accomplice-to-rape for Jeffs’s role in a 14-year-old’s monogamous marriage to her 19-year-old first cousin. Polygamy actually had nothing to do with that marriage, nor with Warren Jeffs’s conviction, nor was it a factor in many of the other FLDS marriages with problems that were described in the book.

If I could change one thing about the book, I would have it emphasize the monogamy of those marriages. I recognize that some people, FLDS included, call themselves polygamists even if they are unmarried or monogamous. So in one sense, the term “polygamist” can simply mean a person who believes in polygamy or desires to be a polygamist.

On the other hand, consider this: When a crime is committed by a polygamist, the news headline never fails to highlight it, but when a crime is committed by a monogamist, that fact is always left out. The number of wives a man has isn’t what makes him violent or non-violent. Polygamous men, monogamous men, and single men alike can all be violent criminals and child molesters. In fact, being a polygamist might be evidence that a man isn’t a creep.

I like the following excerpt from When Men Become Gods. The part in bold reminds me of Tianna Foster’s answer to the question of why she wants to practice polygamy someday.

A group of plural wives in Centennial Park took the attorneys general of both Utah and Arizona on a tour of their community, explaining why they’d freely entered into this way of life and how no one was being harmed by it.

These women and others spoke out in favor of polygamy to CNN and ABC, citing various reasons. They liked knowing where their husbands were at night; sharing their sexual duties with other women; having several mothers around to help take care of all the children; and a stable environment that provided them with the financial, emotional, family, and spiritual resources to assist them in every phase of living. They enjoyed belonging to a culture and a faith that offered them religious absolutes, moral clarity, and protection from the external world. They didn’t approve of what America had become — particularly its political leadership and emphasis on consumerism — seeking instead to separate from mainstream values and beliefs. Sex was far less important in their lifestyle than outsiders believed: they simply didn’t place that much emphasis on it. Like Warren Jeffs himself, they felt they were answering to a calling higher than secular law, and any sacrifices or hardships endured were for the glory of God and their own salvation.

Some of the women mentioned the specific psychological benefits of polygamy. Plural marriage had helped them come to terms with difficult feelings like jealousy, insecurity, competition, and thinking that they “owned” their spouse. Instead of denying these complex emotions, they’d been forced to confront them in order to make their marriages work. They saw all this as a growth experience — a lifestyle that was not only tolerable, but preferable.

The most visible supporter of plural marriage was LeAnne Timpson, the administrator of the Masada Charter School in Centennial Park. Timpson, who described herself as a polygamist and a feminist, had attended Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and was outspoken about her legal right to be a plural wife and the virtues of her choice. She considered her activism civil disobedience and eventually hoped to go all the way to the U>S> Supreme Court to have plural marriage decriminalized. Within her community, she often appeared before civic groups and the media to show that a woman with her educational background could embrace plural marriage. One of her patented replies to the charge that polygamists were abusing polygamists was that “monogamists are abusing monogamists.” …

After Utah and Arizona officials ended their tour of Centennial Park, they restated their point of view: they weren’t against polygamy among consenting adults and weren’t going to investigate or prosecute that. They were only interested in pursuing cases involved sexual abuse, forced marriages, and crimes against minors.

Flying in Formation

The website Biblical Families has a forum full of positive discussions about polygamy.  This is a great place to hang out and get support if you’re interested in living this way.

Chris Nystrom (who occasionally comments on this blog) recently wrote a post in which he compares flying in formation to marriage (and by extension, to plural marriage).

His idea was too good not to share with my readers, so I have included it here in its entirety, with permission from the author.

I have long thought that flying in formation was a good metaphor for marriage.

Here are 8 specific points for you to consider:

1. How do they do it? The key is that there is one leader and the rest are followers. If there is no leader you are not flying in formation.

2. Due to advance communication everyone knows where they are going, but the leader leads and the followers have to keep a close eye on the leader.

3. The followers job is to position themselves correctly in relation to the leader.

4. The leader has to call the maneuvers so that the followers can expect the movements and react to them accordingly. They communicate constantly as needed.

5. There has to be at least two to fly in formation, but structurally you can add on more.

6. Not easily done. It takes intention and practice.

7. It is also mandatory for safety in aerial combat. Singles are picked off like sitting ducks.

8. You need someone to check your six. No individual has complete vision or situational awareness. But good teams are unbeatable in aerial combat.

When done well it is a beautiful thing. Formation flying is commonly seen at air shows for the appreciation of all.

Note: The differences between the original forum post and this version were made by Chris in preparing the post for the Biblical Families newsletter.

Pioneer Day

Happy Pioneer DayFrom its very beginnings, Mormonism seemed destined to attract ridicule and persecution of every variety, of every intensity, and from every direction —  be it religious, secular, or political.  Even Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith, noted about himself:

It seems as though the adversary was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom; else why should the powers of darkness combine against me? Why the opposition and persecution that arose against me, almost in my infancy?

Whether you agree with the doctrines and practices of Joseph Smith and Mormonism (and there is much to disagree with no doubt – for many of them are strange, and even offensive), the horrible abuse and religious persecution of the Mormon people at the hands of their oppressors (which included not only private persons, and mobs, but also state and federal governments) was shocking, horrific, and is completely unparalleled in the history of the United States.

Since the very beginnings of Mormonism in the state of New York, they were often treated harshly by their neighbors.  This mistreatment, which involved everything from mistrust and slander to murder and rape, caused the body of the Church to move from one place to another—to Ohio, to Missouri, to Illinois, and finally on to the land that would become Utah.  In fact, murder of Mormons was still officially sanctioned by the state of Missouri until June of 1976.

Being abused and driven continually from place to place quickly becomes old, and can be tolerated for only so long.  In all these tribulations the Mormons had petitioned the government (both state and federal) several times to aid them in their plights.  Perhaps most famously President Van Buren is reported to have said, when asked for aid, “Gentlemen, your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you. … If I take up for you I shall lose the vote of Missouri.”  Oh, the politicians!

KOG flag

The first wagon company entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24th of 1847.  Brigham Young stated then that if they would be left in peace for 10 years, they would ask nothing further of the government.  Ten years later to the day, on July 24th of 1857, the saints were celebrating Pioneer Day up Big Cottonwood Canyon at Silver Lake, with the Stars and Stripes flying in the breeze, when word came to the territory of Deseret that the United States was sending an army to crush a supposed Mormon rebellion.

31star

 

Of course the rumors of rebellion and lawlessness in the territory were exaggerated well beyond the point of lies, and were used as false pretense for military action.  Ultimately this proved very costly for the government, and embarrassing for President Buchanan (the Utah War is sometimes referred to as Buchanan’s Blunder).  The real reasons for sending a sizable chunk of the army into the western wilderness was all done for political reasons and had nothing to do with the disloyalty of the Mormon people (for they were not disloyal to the United States – and never have been).  Rather, the reasons had to do with the impending civil war (the massive military force, trudging across the plains at this critical time, left many federal arsenals and military stores unprotected in the South), and the recently adopted Republican Party platform (adopted at the GOP convention of 1856 in Philadelphia) to rid the US of:

“the twin relics of barbarism,

polygamy and slavery“.

After receiving the news about the approaching army Brigham Young told the people to finish their Pioneer Day celebrations, and then they began making plans and preparations.  The plan they decided on was to stall the army, thru bloodless guerrilla warfare, as long as possible from entering the territory (the stories of Lot Smith and Porter Rockwell are fascinating and entertaining, but sadly too long to relate here).  This was to buy them time to clear up the misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and outright lies that were circulating in the East about the Mormon people.  Ultimately, the plan was carried out in a brilliant manner, and was successful in its aims.

Here is what Brother Brigham had to say about the situation:

It is a pretty bold stand for this people to take, to say that they will not be controlled by the corrupt administrators of our General Government.  We will be controlled by them, if they will be controlled by the Constitution and laws; but they will not.  Many of them do not care any more about the Constitution and laws that they make than they do about the laws of any other nation.  That class [of people] trample the rights of the people under their feet, while there are so many who would like to honor them.  All we ever asked for is our Constitutional rights.  We wish the laws of our Government honored, and we have ever honored them; but they are trampled under foot by administrators.

And furthermore:

I do not lift my voice against the great and glorious Government guaranteed to every citizen by our Constitution, but against those corrupt administrators who trample the Constitution and just laws under their feet.  They care no more about them than they do about the Government of France, but they walk them under their feet with impunity.  And the most of the characters they have sent here as officers cared no more about the laws of our country and of this territory than they did about the laws of China, but walked them under their feet with all the recklessness of despots. – Millennial Star, No. 3, Vol. 20, pg. 33

So remember this Pioneer Day, that this day is about religious liberty as much as it is about settling a strange land and making the desert blossom as a rose.  I leave you with the inspiring words of Connor Boyack, who wrote a beautiful guest opinion for the Daily Herald (the original article can be found here).  His words are reproduced here in their entirety:

July 24 is Utah’s second summer celebration of independence. On this state holiday, we remember the pioneers who on this date in 1847 arrived in the Salt Lake Valley to settle the area.

Fleeing from a mob and exiting the borders of the American states, Brigham Young and his Mormon followers started a new society in the desert, independent from the government that had forsaken them. In a letter to the U.S. president summarizing their intent, Young declared:

“We would esteem a territorial government of our own as one of the richest boons of earth, and while we appreciate the Constitution of the United States as the most precious among the nations, we feel that we had rather retreat to the deserts, islands or mountain caves than consent to be ruled by governors and judges whose hands are drenched in the blood of innocence and virtue, who delight in injustice and oppression.”

There are many reasons for which the early Latter-day Saints were persecuted, religious discrimination and concerns about concentrated political power among them. Of course, polygamy also played a role; it was only a few years later that the Republican Party was founded, focused on the abolition of two “barbarisms”: slavery and polygamy.

The decades that followed saw increasing intervention into this polygamous lifestyle by federal agents enforcing newly enacted laws against what had by then become the territory of Utah. LDS Church leaders went underground to avoid prosecution, and Mormon culture became insular and to some degree anti-government, so much so that the “Mormon Creed” was born and widely used, even featured as art in one LDS temple.

That motto? “Mind your own business. Saints will observe this, others ought to.”

The rest is history, but forgotten history for many in Utah. Raids against and imprisonment of many of our ancestors is so far distant from today’s society that it doesn’t get much attention.

It should — if for no other reason than the fact that many plural families continue to live amongst us, practicing their faith and living as best as they can, branded as they are as felons by their own government. We can more appropriately honor Utah’s polygamist pioneers who stood up for what they believed in, on Pioneer Day and every day, by not perpetuating the same oppressive policies against which they protested.

We’re all aware of the examples of abuse, fraud, and outright perversion in some polygamous circles. This does not, however, justify widely branding a population to which so many of us have a close connection.

In other words, a few bad apples doesn’t mean the whole bunch should be tossed out. There are numerous examples of consenting adults and loving families creating a safe and supportive environment for their children and one another.

Utah’s celebration of Pioneer Day is inherently connected to polygamy; the day is a memorial of unfair persecution based on religious and cultural differences. For a modern society that claims to increasingly support diversity and inclusion, the continued persecution of the posterity of the very people for whom the holiday exists stands as a hypocritical anomaly worth pointing out.

A modern leader in the LDS Church had something to say about this:

“Our pioneer ancestors were driven from place to place by uninformed and intolerant neighbors. They experienced extraordinary hardship and persecution because they thought, acted, and believed differently from others. If our history teaches us nothing else, it should teach us to respect the rights of all people to peacefully coexist with one another.”

The very state government that has institutionalized this holiday, and that was created by those persecuted in part for their support of polygamy, now criminalizes this lifestyle as a felony. Separate laws allow for the prosecution of those actually guilty of a real crime — sexual abuse, fraud, neglect, etc. Going further to punish a consenting adult relationship is inherently unjust.

Yes, let’s celebrate Pioneer Day (or, for some, pie and beer day), but let’s take up the torch of the pioneers we celebrate by putting an end to the oppression from which they fled, and which many of their posterity are subjected to still.

Connor Boyack is president of Libertas Institute, a free market think tank in Lehi, and author of 14 books.

Happy Pioneer Day!

Not what social media would have you believe.

Hello, my name is Tianna Foster.

I am 20 years of age.

I live at home with my dad, my three amazing mothers and 20 going on 21 siblings, whom I adore!

I grew up in the red rock country, in a beautiful community surrounded by wonderful people, each with a different background.

I have heard many different assumptions about the life of a child with “polygamist parents.” I know that the sad truth is that in some cases those assumptions are true, but what I want you to understand is that the problems that are pointed out in the polygamist communities exist all throughout the world, they are not things caused by polygamy, they are caused by self-focused humans. They are human problems.

However my life as a child raised in a polygamist family was much different than what social media would have you believe.

I had a wonderful childhood filled with the outdoors, adventure after adventure, traveling, family, friends and more love than most people receive in a lifetime.

When I was young, (before I was old enough to know about what the world thought of us) all I knew was that I was the lucky kid who had a dad and two moms to cherish, support, and want me. (My third mother joined our family a year ago.)

I did not see problems in my parents relationships; they all loved each other very much!

Being an adult I now see that like any relationship there are struggles from time to time and there are misunderstandings, but show me any marriage that doesn’t have that.

The important thing is they work through them and don’t give up on each other.

I understand that when you see people such as Warren Jeffs it puts a bad taste in your mouth but just because there was a bad man who had more than one wife does not make every polygamist family bad.

To say that is like saying that because one dog bites you all dogs are wicked. It’s simply not true.

We are not brainwashed.

My parents love education and free thinking.

They have taught me to be full of questions and to observe all ways of living, to choose for myself what I believe and how I choose to live.

Never once have I been told to live that way simply because they do.

They’ve taught me to look at what each lifestyle produces and then to choose my path according to the outcome I desire.

Now I do not believe that plural marriage is for everyone. But this is America, “the land of the free.” Can we not be free to choose that way of life if we want it?

You take away our right to speak, our right to live and believe as we choose, then I ask you, what is so great about America?

If consenting adults choose to live that way why must they be persecuted?

I will fight against opposition!!

I will speak out for the ones who don’t have a voice.

And I will fight for our rights and for our freedom.

Can we please break down the walls that divide us?

We are families, not felons.

My thoughts on plural marriage:

Someone once asked me, “Why would you want to live plural marriage?”

Up to that point I had never really thought of why I would WANT to live the principle of plural marriage, so it caused me to reflect and to ask myself that very question. “Why?”
After thinking about it for some time I came to a conclusion that surprised me: I realized that I wanted to live plural marriage because it would bring out the worst in me.

I know you might be thinking, well why on earth would you want the worst in you brought out?

I’ll tell you…because only when the worst is brought out can I overcome it!

Sure I could live my whole life putting on the act of perfection, allowing people to believe that I’m just a saint of a person but in the eternal run what good would that truly do me?

If I do not face my insecurities and jealousies but instead I bury them, then I will go through life still carrying them. Closing your eyes to a problem may make it disappear temporarily, but as soon as you open your eyes it will still be there.

Face it, solve it, overcome it.

As Henry Drummond said, “This world is not a playground; it is a school room. Life is not a holiday but an education. And the one eternal question for us all is, how better can I love.”

Which brings us to love itself.

This small four letter word that means so much.

I believe that in order to know how better to love you must first understand love itself. I could go on about that but I will leave that topic for another time.

So for now ask yourself what is love? And, How better may I love God, others and myself?

If we go back to what Henry Drummond said and we believe that he is correct, that “life is a school room” then should we not take every opportunity to learn and grow?

At some point in our lives we will learn the simple things, the ABCs if you will, which are wonderful, but as we go through life we are meant to progress, to then take those ABCs and compile them into words, and then string those words into sentences and so on.
Moving from a kindergarten level on and on until you reach a college level.

Now if you want, you are free to choose to stay in kindergarten; however, if you want more you must be willing to apply yourself, take steps forward and go through tests that challenge your mind.

I believe that the same is true in every area of life.

I enjoy analogies so allow me to paint one up for you…we are, each of us these pieces of coal. God loves us just the way we are and if we choose to live our whole lives as the coal that we are that’s all right, but if we want more than that there are certain principles that we can choose to live by, which will push you to become something more.

It’s like asking God to place a mountain on your shoulders, while at the same time asking him to give the strength to withhold the weight.

It will be heavy and difficult but if we stay strong in the Lord then the very pressure that could crush us can also change us from coal to a diamond.

It is choosing to walk through the fire knowing that the purest of gold must first go through the hottest of fire before it can be refined.

I believe that the same goes for plural marriage, along with many other higher principles.

Marriage in my mind is choosing a companion to share in life’s journey with, having a partner to face the hard times with and to cherish the moments with, just choosing to do life together!

My dad has told me my whole life, “Marry your best friend.”

I plan on doing that. And your best friend should be the one who brings out the best in you.

If marriage is choosing a person who you love to share life with then plural marriage is just choose to share life with yet another person.

I once asked my Mom, “Why did you choose to live this way?”

She told me this: “Because your dad is such an amazing husband, father and friend! I wanted to be able to bless another woman with the blessing I have.”

My parents were happily married for eight years before ever even talking about the principle of plural marriage, and when they did it was my mother who brought it up.

She is a strong, kind, incredible woman!

As are each of my moms.

I aspire to be like them.

Seeing how happy and successful my parents are makes me want what they have.

There is a right and a wrong way to do everything.

I think that my parents have got something right that’s for sure!

I have many more thought but for now my time for writing is up.

My hope is that I have brought a new piece to the puzzle, given some new perspective, that I have shed some light and given some understanding.

I hope these thoughts and principles will bless your life!

Finally

About ten years ago, my husband and I bought our first house together.  While I lived in that house, I planted trees and gardens.  I bought furniture.  I hosted events.  I had a variety of houseguests.  I put up pictures and had pets and houseplants.  While I lived there I went from 1 child to 3 children and began homeschooling.  I had a variety of Church callings and a good selection of friends and friendly neighbors.  I was in living that house when my belief system about the LDS Church crumbled (although I stayed an active member for a number of years).  I also gave birth in one of the bedrooms upstairs.

In that same bedroom, my husband and I first discussed the possibility of his marrying my best friend Melissa.  (Short version: I could no longer ignore the spiritual experiences I was having regarding God’s will in the matter.  Joshua and I had never talked about it before, but I opened the conversation with: “So, Joshua, are you going to marry Melissa?”  His answer: “Well, I don’t know.”  My shocked reply: “What do you mean you don’t know?  I know!”  Two days later he had his first conversation with Melissa about it; I think it’s fair to say the latter conversation was far more awkward than the former.)

A few weeks later, in that same upstairs bedroom, I announced to my husband my plan to essentially give the house to Melissa and her children and move with my children more than an hour away, in order for her teenagers to have the space they needed to finish growing up.

That very day, about 5 years ago, we packed up a single carload and I moved away from my trees and animals and gardens, most of my possessions, my friends and neighbors, and the only home most of my children had ever known.

Gradually, tediously, over months and many many many trips between the two houses, Melissa patiently helped me finish moving out of the house which was now, bewilderingly, hers.  And she made that house her own, changing out the kitchen appliances and paint and window coverings and furniture and animals and gardens to better suit her preferences.  She continued the arduous task of parenting children without their father.  And she got used to being a plural wife.

Melissa has now lived in that house longer than I ever lived in it.

For 5 years, my children have had just one parent half the time.  I tell you, it sure is a special treat for the kids when Baba walks in that front door after they’ve been stuck with only me for a couple of days.  Two of our children don’t even remember life before their father was a polygamist.  They don’t remember what it was like to eat dinner and have devotional with him every single night.  They’ve developed habits such as asking me every couple of hours whether Baba will be here today, and writing things down they don’t want to forget to tell him.

For 5 years, my husband has had more than one carpool to get to his job.  (It’s very confusing for his fellow carpoolers.)  He’s had multiple houses and yards to maintain.  He’s been forced to have duplicates of numerous things (including cars, lawn mowers, and property tax bills) so he can frequently seesaw between his two domiciles.  And I can’t even count the number of times he’s needed something but has turned up empty-handed because the tool or other item was in a different county.  He’s been like an unlucky stepchild, constantly going back-and-forth between two houses.

Over the last 5 years, all of us have had more difficulties than I care to list right now.  We’ve also had a lot of personal growth and character-building, but I’ll save that for another time.  I’d rather get to the good news.

For 5 years, Melissa has been finishing the job of turning children into adults.  Her youngest is now 18 years old.  He recently graduated from high school and is launching out on his own.

We are all ready for a big life change.

Melissa’s time in my old house is coming to a close.

Tomorrow my sisterwife finally moves in with me. 

Well, sort of.  I live in a house with several separate apartments, all connected on the inside.  Melissa and I will live together, but each of us will have our own part of the house, our own front door, our own master bedroom, our own kitchen.

Our husband will no longer need duplicates of so many things.  He will get to come home to his entire family every evening.  The children will get to see their Baba and their other mother daily.  Melissa will have to do a lot less driving.  And she and I get to begin a new phase of our relationship.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.