The World is Upside Down

If buttercups buzzed after the bee,
If boats were on land, churches in the sea,
If ponies rode men, and the grass ate the cow,
If cats should be chased into holes by the mouse,
If mamas sold their babies to gypsies for half a crown,
If summer were spring and the other way ’round,
Then all the world would be upside down.

world upside down

I am amazed sometimes by the world I live in. Things are changing at such an alarming and accelerating rate, and it seems like things have just gone absolutely mad at times. The whole world does indeed seems upside-down at times, and here is the latest:

This legislative session, the Utah State legislature has just declared that adultery, sodomy, and fornication are no longer crimes. The justification given for this change is that these laws aren’t enforced anyway. Fair enough, but this is the very same thing they say about plural marriage, “We don’t enforce it.” However, in the case of plural marriage they go on to say, “But we just want to keep holding it over your heads.” The whole situation is crazy! These are the descendants of polygamists who settled the desert lands of Utah. They would happily throw their grandparents and great-grandparents in prison, while turning a blind eye to actual crimes. It is a sad state of affairs indeed, but I don’t want to get too much into the hypocrisy and lies surrounding the position taken by the state (that would take a separate post). I just want to highlight the absolute turn about of things!

When I heard about the startling change, I was immediately reminded of a passage from the book, Key to the Science of Theology, by Parley Pratt (one of the first apostles in the Mormon Church). Check it out.

Where is the nation called “Christian,” that does not uphold or permit prostitution, fornication and adultery with all their debasing, demoralizing, degenerating and corroding effects, with all their tendencies to disease and crime, to operate unchecked, and to leaven and corrode all classes of society?

Where is the “Christian nation” that does not prohibit the law of
God, as given to Abraham and the ancients in relation to marriage?

Where is the “Christian nation” that punishes the crime of adultery and fornication with death, or other heavy penalties?

Where are the institutions which would protect, encourage, and honour the patriarch Jacob, with his four wives and their children?

Where is the community who would feel themselves honoured in associating with such a family—although, all corrupt practices would be frowned down, and all persons discountenanced, who, under the name of gentility, nobility, or royalty, glory in their conquests and victories over the principles and practices of virtue and innocence?

Echo answers, Where?—unless we look to the far off mountains and distant vales of Deseret, a land peopled by the Latter-day Saints, and governed by the law of God, the keys of the eternal Priesthood, and organized in the New and Everlasting Covenant.

Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, Chapter 17

Oh how the tables have turned! They have flipped a full 180 degrees. Things could not be more upside down. Parley must be turning in his grave!

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! – Isaiah 5:20

Common Law Marriage in Georgia (or: Are the Snowdens Married? – Season II)

There are still questions about the validity of the Snowdens’ marriage.  I suppose this will probably come up every single season they are on the show.  So, I guess I’ll just plan on writing a blog post every single season about it (or not).

Lets talk about common law marriage in the Peach State since that is where they were living.  Of course they moved to California, so I’ll mention that as well, but first a little background.  GAA common law marriage is simply a marriage which is not officially documented by the state.  It is also often the case that common law marriages are not accompanied by any sort of ceremony (that is to say, a documented ceremony – by a church for example).  This of course does not mean that the people involved are not married.  It merely means that the state has not entered their union into the state’s archives.  Also of note is the fact that common law marriage is not the same thing as, “living together”, or even as, “living together for a long time (7 years or whatever)”.

If its not the same, then what is the difference? What is the main difference  between, “living together” and being married (whether documented or common law)?  Please don’t say, “a piece of paper”; you’ll make me both sad and nauseous at the same time.

I hope everyone would agree (at least everyone who is married, and therefore knows the difference) that the main difference is the commitment to the relationship.  hand heartThe main difference, and the thing that makes marriage different from “shacking up” (and better too), is the commitment to the other person and to the relationship.  This difference, this thing, this commitment, is something that the state cannot create nor control, and yet it is the key ingredient, the main ingredient, and is in fact the very core of the matter.  You could even say it was the heart of the matter.

How is this commitment demonstrated in the eyes of the law?  The requirements are essentially the same for both documented and common law marriages.  They are something like this:

  1. The parties must be eligible (age requirements, not too closely related, mentally sound, etc.).
  2. Both parties must be freely willing to enter this agreement i.e. they agree to be married.
  3. The parties present themselves to their acquaintances as married.
  4. They live to live together as man and wife.
  5. Must consummate the agreement.

There are several states which have laws explicitly recognizing common law marriage.  The details of the qualifications vary from state to state, but here they are: Colorado, District of Columbia, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah (Utah has some interesting things to say about common law marriage and polygamy by the way – there’s another post there someday).

However, there is a snag in all of this given that, officially, common law marriage was “abolished” in the state of Georgia in 1997 – but it isn’t remotely so simple.  In the year 2010, the Supreme Court of Georgia actually decided to recognize a common law marriage anyway.  The link to the court’s decision is here if you are interested in the entire thing, but I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version.

The parties involved were Debbie Jean Ault and James A. Norman.  In 1986, Mr. Norman was newly divorced from his previous wife.  Three years later (1989), Ms. Ault began living in the same home as Mr. Norman (in Alabama), sharing a bedroom, and doing housework. They would both tell people that the other was their spouse, Mr. Norman had sexual relations only with Ms. Ault, and Ms. Ault would often call herself Mrs. Norman.  And, while they never actually had a marriage ceremony of any kind, Mr Norman would repeatedly tell Ms. Ault that, “in God’s eyes, you are my wife.”

A few years later (1998) they moved to the neighboring state, Georgia – together, of course.  By this time Georgia had abolished common law marriages; they were a thing of the past!  There they managed to live happily (or not) until 2008 when he filed a law suit against her demanding she pay him damages (for who knows what).  She responded that she would need money to do that, and that she didn’t want to be withgavel him any more.  So, she simply countered by filing for divorce, alimony, and an equitable division of assets. Ouch.

He said she couldn’t do that because, 1) they were never married to begin with and, 2) Georgia doesn’t recognize common law marriages.  The Supreme court of Georgia did not agree with Mr. Norman on either count.  Ms. Ault was awarded $54,000 as lump sum alimony.

Why did this happen?  Judges are usually very clever, and they will try to make decisions as narrowly as possible, so as to affect as little of the existing framework of laws as possible.  For them, the fact that Georgia had abolished common law marriage was inconsequential.  They did not even need to address this issue.  Rather, they looked to the “Full Faith and Credit Clause” of the U.S. Constitution (Article IV, Section 1) which says that all the states must respect “public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.”

Since the Normans lived together as man and wife in Alabama, and Alabama allowed common law marriages at the time (even tho their marriage was never recognized by Alabama), then it follows that the state of Georgia should honor the marital status which the Normans attained while living there. Tada!

Another obvious exception would be the case of couples who contracted a common law marriage in the state of Georgia prior to 1997.  These relationships would all be recognized as valid marriages if there were ever a similar challenge brought before the court.

Despite abolishing common law marriage, Georgia officially accepts them from other states, and accepts them in their own state prior to 1997.  So, what does this mean for a Georgia couple in 2019, that want to have a common law marriage?  It means that their marriage will also be accepted in Georgia, and it means the same thing in California, and in every other state in the union.justice

How could it be otherwise?  How could they have have equal treatment under the law otherwise? Equal treatment is protected by the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution (the equal protection clause). There is no way the state could defensibly accept a common law marriage (along with granting all the privileges that accompany that condition) entered into on the 31st of December 1996, and deny one entered into on the 1st of January 1997.  You cannot give different treatment to people who are similarly situated.  The Georgia law would amount to discrimination based upon age.

The current law essentially says, if you were born in the 80s or later, you cannot contract a common law marriage, even tho your parents did, and your older siblings (who were born in the 70s) did.  It is ludicrous to think that the state can abridge a fundamental right at all, and marriage is absolutely a fundamental right – which means it resides with the people and not the government.  There is no logical way around it. If it were challenged, the law abolishing common law marriage it would obviously fail.  The only reason it is still on the books is because it hasn’t been challenged.

Common law marriage is at the very heart of the idea of marriage.  Marriage is a contract; an agreement entered into by a man and a woman for the purpose of creating a family and propagating the species.  The very core of the matter is: who decides that two people can marry?  The people themselves, or the state?  You can’t get rid of common law marriage by any legislation without also getting rid of marriage itself (and this would only happen in a totalitarian, Orwellian nightmare of a world).  It is the foundation upon which all real marriages are built.

The piece of paper – the government documentation – is only a wrapper placed around the core.  All documented marriages are also fundamentally common law marriages at their center ( I say “all” in the sense that the vast majority of them are – there are always a few exceptions, but this is beyond this post.  maybe next season, haha.).  The center is a man and woman casting their lot together, promising to stay that way, and beginning a family.

For the sake of illustration, let me make a comparison to another fundamental right: life.  For most people in the U.S., when they were born they (actually, their parents) were issued a birth certificate by the state in which they were born.  What if the State of Georgia made a law saying they were no longer going to recognize births in the state?  I know this sounds ridiculous, but stay with me.  The new law said that there would no longer be state issued birth certificates.  Would this mean that a baby born in Georgia, after the passing of this law, was not really born, or not really alive because they didn’t have official recognition from the state (or from the church for that matter)?  Of course not!  That would be crazy, right?  The child would be born regardless of what the state said (or didn’t say) about it.  Furthermore, that child would have all the rights that any other natural born citizen would have.

It is true that not having a birth certificate can make life more difficult when it comes to legal matters (and I personally know of some people who have experienced this), but that is a separate issue entirely.

If Georgia stopped issuing birth certificates, it wouldn’t stop people from being born. The state has no say about that.  May it ever be so!  Similarly, the state has no say about marriages.  They may decide not to issue papers, but it would have no effect whatsoever on whether the person was born, or whether a man and woman were married.

Sexting Bernie & Equality

I know this post is an episode behind, but I’ve got to get down some of my thoughts about it before I move on.

I think the whole thing was blown entirely out of proportion. All the previews built up this impression that Bernie was acting in a wildly inappropriate way, but when it actually aired it was seen that it was all just a load of hot air. From what I saw, Bernie is essentially innocent. He didn’t initiate the sexting at all, and Paige herself says Bernie is the one that put an end to it when the woman started to get explicit. I don’t see what is the problem here. It seems like Paige should be proud of her man for that, rather than chastising him for what the other woman sent to him without any solicitation on his part (by this I mean without solicitation for the sexually explicit messages). It is amazing really, and a bit strange.

I also feel like I need to give some props to Bernie here. From what was shown, I would say he handled things very well. He stopped the potentially inappropriate text conversation, and he handled his wife, and her complaints, in a very gracious manner. He ended up apologizing for nothing (he says at first that he didn’t think he had crossed a line – and he is right) in order to protect his relationship – and hey, sometimes you might have to do that. But I’m not sure that apologizing for non-offenses every time they arise is going to be a sustainable long-term solution to the problem.

It seems to all come down to Paige’s well-developed (and dare I say, overdeveloped) sense of jealousy. This is definitely a large hurdle for the McGees and a challenge she has to personally deal with. Jealousy over a husband’s time, affection, and resources is an expected (tho not required!) emotion that has to be dealt with by most plural families, but Paige’s worries go even farther. She thinks she will also be jealous about her children’s time and affection for the new wife (this is in the first episode). I wonder if she will feel even more jealousy when the dogs end up liking the new wife as well?

Paige Doesn't know.png

OK, joking aside, these are serious matters to deal with, and while I was disappointed to see Bernie chided for things he should have been praised for, I do have to give some credit to Paige as well. She admits that she doesn’t know what can and cannot be said between a husband and a potential plural wife (she just knows how it made her feel). I think that’s a fair thing for her to say, and here is my fair response:

The wives should be on equal terms, and with equal privileges. The second wife (and her relationship to their husband – or potential relationship) should not be subject to any restrictions that the first wife and her relationship are not (or were not) also under. Especially if those restrictions are placed on the new wife by the first wife – those are dangerous waters to be treading in. If it was fine for the first wife, it is fine for the second. End of story.

Paige says that when she and Bernie were courting they had, “free discussions” but now that he is married that is not allowed any more. I say bologna. She asks him about holding hands, kisses good night, etc.? One possible response to this question is: Did she and Bernie hold hands, kiss good night, talk about sex, etc.? My guess is that the answer is likely “yes” on all counts – she probably asks this question because she was remembering her own behaviors when she was courting. Not that these things are required for a relationship to progress, but they are normal, healthy, and acceptable behaviors. She says it is about Bernie “respecting” her and their relationship, but I see it much more as disrespect and devaluation, on her part, towards the potential second wife in not allowing her the same privileges she enjoyed – and this would be a very unhealthy way to start a relationship.

I guess another way of saying this is that Paige should not be berating Bernie ex post facto. Their agreement was no sexual intimacy before commitment (a.k.a. marriage), which is an excellent rule to abide by. Bernie did not break this rule, and is therefore innocent. He did not even violate the spirit of this rule. “This is borderline cheating,” she says, but I say it is nothing of the sort; furthermore, the line should not be moved after the fact. Is it cheating or isn’t it? When it comes to laws and rules, it is not right to hold someone hostage with a fuzzy, ill-defined, gray area that may change in shape or scope with the whims of emotion. It reminds me of the very good rule the Snowdens laid down in the first episode of this season. Ashley told Dimitri that he was allowed to think Vanessa is beautiful, and he was allowed to tell her she was beautiful, but he just wasn’t allowed to act on it.

cant act.png

Something else to consider is the situation the potential second wife finds herself in. She wants to gain the attention/attraction/affection of a man who already has a wife, and who is (presumably) already having sex. Hopefully, it’s no secret that one of the things women bring to a relationship is sex-appeal. Certainly this is not all they bring, but it is a significant part of what they bring, and this is every bit as true in monogamy as it is in polygamy. It is nothing to criticize, or belittle, and it is not strange or creepy. It just needs to be understood as the proper and biological reality of the situation. However, this fact may lead her to believe that she is at a disadvantage, since her potential man is already having sex. As a result, she may feel like she needs to assure him that she will also be sexually pleasing. This is a good and natural desire, and concern, for a woman to have – to want to please her future spouse (and good men are concerned about pleasing their spouse(s) as well).

While I can understand this point of view, I will say to any potential sister wife: you sincerely don’t need to worry about this. That is all I will say for now (but more on this later).

I could understand limiting things in a second courtship if it was a mistake in the first courtship (like Dimitri drawing a line for Vanessa on their first Date). Beyond this, if it is not sinful, or prohibited by some agreement between spouses, then there should be no attempt to make the parties feel guilty over it. And yet, the emotions here can be so raw and dangerous, that everyone needs to tread cautiously. My serious advice to potential plural husbands, in this area, is that you should be open about the relationship, but not open about the affection/intimacy. In other words, keep it private. Doing otherwise probably wont be good for anyone.

My serious advice to current wives is: Don’t be going thru his accounts. This (Paige snooping thru Bernie’s messages) actually seems like a much bigger breach of trust to me, than Bernie’s handling of the sexting. Just as I was typing this I recollected that Charlotte, when I was courting Melissa, told me that she knew my email password, but that she wanted me to change it, and that she had decided not to go snooping into correspondence between us. What an amazing woman she is!

Isn’t polygamy really just adultery?

[Author’s note: this post is primarily addressed to LDS and members of organized fundamentalist break off groups. If you’re neither, you are of course welcome to read on – but you may miss some of the cultural references; then again, you may find it interesting to catch a glimpse into how millions of Mormons think.]

I was raised very active, faithful LDS. As such, I was emphatically taught the following: “Polygamy is a Sin, unless God commands it, and God will only ever deliver such a command through the Prophet. Polygamists who don’t get permission from the Prophet (or his authorized representatives) are guilty of Adultery and the only worse sins are Murder and Denying the Holy Ghost.” (paraphrasing)

I have found this perspective to be the rule throughout the LDS church and among almost all organized fundamentalist groups. What is amazing is that LDS and fundamentalist groups alike are united in thinking that only One Man can rightfully sanction plural marriage, and that anyone who marries plurally without that One Man’s permission is an adulterer – the only difference is WHO they believe the One Man is. I sometimes refer to this way of thinking as the “one man theory.”

If an LDS person gains a testimony of certain doctrines that were taught in the early days of the church and begins investigating fundamentalism, yet still retains their conditioned belief in the “one man theory,” their efforts will quickly devolve into a frustrating and futile version of the game “button, button, who’s got the button?” Indeed, such a person can truly relate to Joseph Smith’s feelings when he said, “In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (JS-History 1:10)

Rather than dig in to the origins and reasons for this pervasive belief in the “one man theory” (which could fill books and is beyond the scope of this post), let’s try a different approach recommended by John Taylor:

“I believe it is good to investigate and prove all principles that come before me. Prove all things, hold fast that which is good, and reject that which is evil, no matter what guise it may come in. I think if we, as ‘Mormons,’ hold principles that cannot be sustained by the Scriptures and by good sound reason and philosophy, the quicker we part with them the better, no matter who believes in them or who does not. In every principle presented to us, our first inquiry should be, ‘Is it true?’ ‘Does it emanate from God?’ If He is its Author it can be sustained just as much as any other truth in natural philosophy; if false it should be opposed and exposed just as much as any other error. Hence upon all such matters we wish to go back to first principles.” (John Taylor JD 13:15.)

With this approach in mind, let’s revisit some common and familiar terms and re-examine whether their modern, traditional interpretation within Mormonism actually matches their biblical and historical meaning – or not. In “proving” (in other words testing) these things, we will be able to better discern what is true and what isn’t, so that we can confidently embrace true, eternal principles and reject the flawed traditions we’ve inherited in our religious culture.

Adultery

My friend Joshua (one of the main authors on this blog) has already defined the biblical perspective of the term Adultery fairly thoroughly here. One noteworthy point is that for adultery to have occurred, a married woman must have had illicit intercourse with someone other than her husband; in which case, both parties (the unfaithful wife and the man) have committed a capital offense (meaning punishable by death) under biblical law. There is a corollary to this law that I hadn’t considered until just a few years ago, which I’ll spell out for clarity: therefore if an unmarried female has intercourse with a married man, biblically speaking this act is not adultery. In fact, if a married man sleeps with an unmarried woman, the biblical “penalty” is somewhat surprising: he must marry her!

This biblical perspective – of what does and doesn’t qualify as “adultery” – perfectly accords with D&C 132:61-63: “…if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else. And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified. But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed….” These verses are also helpful in clarifying the distinction between adultery and polygamy.

Marriage

Marriage is one of those terms that most people don’t think needs to be defined or qualified, because it is such a familiar and ubiquitous concept. However, living in the modern USA, we have certain traditions that have become taken for granted as being required for a marriage to be legitimate – specifically, “marriage licenses.” Have you ever considered the questions: “are marriage licenses required for a marriage to be legitimate? Are marriage licenses an eternal principle?” A brief look into the history and development of marriage may be surprising if you’ve never studied it before.

In the LDS church (since 1890), the standard for whether or not a marriage is regarded as legitimate is whether a couple possesses a government issued marriage license or not (at least within the USA). Biblically, historically, and even legally, this is a strange and arbitrary definition. Even today in 2019, 10 States in the USA (namely Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah – see here) don’t require a couple to obtain a marriage license to be considered legally and lawfully married; in these states, all that is legally required for a couple is to publicly say they are married to each other and to cohabit with each other. The legal term for such a marriage is a “common law marriage” (see here). Being born-and-raised LDS myself, when I first learned about this fact I found it shocking! But… if you think about it, it makes sense. Marriage and the family pre-date all government; Adam and Eve didn’t get permission from the government aka a marriage license (what a laughable idea!).

“Ok,” you might be thinking, “so if a state-issued marriage license isn’t a God-ordained requirement for a legitimate marriage, surely at least a religious ceremony is required!” Question: what came first, the marriage of Adam and Eve, or the founding of the first church? What about cultures that don’t have organized religion involved with marriage – does that make them all guilty of adultery?

For example: among Native Americans prior to European colonization, government was a very fluid and uncentralized concept. When a man and woman decided to be married, they didn’t ask the chief for permission. Most tribes had religious ceremonies that surrounded the marriage to make it publicly known that the woman and man were starting a family; but if a couple “eloped” (ran off into the woods) and came back announcing that they were now married, it was accepted just as lawfully binding by the tribe as if accompanied by the most elaborate religious ceremony/celebration. Would these marriages be somehow less legitimate in God’s eyes because they lacked a government issued paper document or ecclesiastical endorsement?

Scripturally speaking, I believe it’s self evident that what constitutes a legitimate marriage in God’s sight is along the same lines as a “common law” marriage – that a woman not be married/espoused to another (living) man, that she and her husband consider themselves married to each other and are faithful to one another, and that they have conjugal relations with each other. Nothing more, nothing less.

Marriage vs. Sealing

Perhaps some reading these words are thinking I’m missing the point semantically by equating the rules governing monogamous marriage with those governing plural marriage (thinking that a plural situation makes all the difference). My response to that is: upon what basis do you think that? Either marriage is marriage – or it isn’t. If a monogamous marriage is a legit marriage and acceptable in God’s sight when the qualifications outlined above are met, then why not a plural marriage?

Granted, the scriptures make it clear that “if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world.” (D&C 132:15)

In other words – if a marriage is to last beyond THIS world into eternity, it must meet additional requirements. This applies to monogamous marriages the same as polygamous marriages; but just like if a monogamous marriage isn’t “sealed” for eternity doesn’t make the marriage relationship adulterous, if a polygamous marriage isn’t “sealed” for eternity it also doesn’t make that marriage relationship adulterous!

If a monogamous couple:
1) is faithful to each other;
2) builds a celestial quality marriage relationship;
3) desires and is worthy to receive the sealing ordinance by proper authority;
4) yet hasn’t had the opportunity to receive that ordinance by proper authority in this life;
Would the God you worship deprive them of that blessing and damn them to singlehood apart from each other for eternity?
Or would God provide them with an opportunity (either in this life or the next) to comply with the ordinances if they are worthy in every other way?

And now the crux of the matter.

If a polygamous man and his wives:
1) are faithful to each other;
2) build a celestial quality marriage relationship among one another;
3) desire and are worthy to receive the sealing ordinance by proper authority;
4) yet haven’t had the opportunity to receive that ordinance by proper authority in this life;
Would the God you worship deprive them of that blessing and damn them to singlehood apart from each other for eternity?
Or would God provide them with an opportunity (either in this life or the next) to comply with the ordinances if they are worthy in every other way?

Can such a plural marriage relationship (despite not being “sealed by proper authority” or being entered into with a “priesthood ordinance”) be called adultery by any scriptural or rational definition of the term?

I believe the answer is self evidently No.

And to anyone who would say otherwise, I would remind you:
“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” (Exodus 20:16)
“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.” (Deuteronomy 19:18-19)
“And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 20:10)

In other words, the biblical penalty for adultery is death; ergo the biblical penalty for *falsely accusing people of adultery* is also death – for the accusers. Accusing people of adultery is very serious indeed; the stakes are higher than you have probably ever considered before. Even though our modern governments do not enforce the biblical laws concerning the crimes of adultery and false accusation, God sees all, and Christ Himself warned that “with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.” (Matthew 7:2) Not my words. We cannot say we haven’t been warned. Wise people will be very reluctant to judge the relationship choices of sincere consenting adults.

Jacob 2

This chapter from the Book of Mormon is surprisingly only one of two places in all of the standard works (at least in English) where the word “chastity” is used. The word does not appear anywhere in the Old Testament, and only occurs 3 times in the New Testament (in the KJV). From our modern, Western worldview, the word “chastity” is tied almost exclusively to a sexual connotation of virginity/celibacy; however, from a Hebrew worldview the perspective has much more context and nuance. This subject is also far beyond the scope of this not-so-brief blog post, yet is incredibly important and hopefully will receive the 1000 page book it deserves someday soon.

For the sake of today’s conversation, I will just point out a few significant qualifiers from Jacob 2 that are often overlooked by Mormons who misapply Jacob’s prohibition against polygamy to be universal.

In verse 27, we find that the restriction from practicing polygamy was actually limited in its application to the people present at this meeting where Jacob addresses them: “Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none.” To apply this scripture beyond the intended scope is textually unsupported.

In verse 30, Jacob includes a caveat to this direction to live monogamously: “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people (to live polygamy); otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” Can you think of a single other commandment God has ever given where He included a caveat or exception with it? The fact that He did so in this case is concrete proof that monogamy is not an eternal truth or natural state – it was a commandment specific to this limited group of Nephites and was requisite for them to obey until it was rescinded (until God commanded otherwise).

Also worth mentioning in regard to verse 30; for those who equate polygamy with adultery unless specifically commanded by God, let’s try a word replacement and see what happens: “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people (to commit adultery); otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” Sometimes God can give commandments that defy the limited wisdom and perspective of man; but can you point to a single instance in all of scripture where God commanded a single person to violate a moral absolute? Adultery is a moral absolute; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would not command anyone to violate a moral absolute; therefore, Jacob 2 actually proves that monogamy is not a moral absolute.

And finally: repeatedly throughout the Book of Mormon, the authors note that the Nephites obeyed the law of Moses; what almost all modern Mormons forget, is the fact that the law of Moses requires polygamy under certain circumstances. Jacob 2’s restriction of this specific group of Nephites to monogamy presents a singular anomaly, an exception to the rule (polygamy), which was the natural state for all other people who lived the law of Moses. Further discussion on this topic is necessary, but will have to wait for another time.

Polygamy Today

“Those who limit the designs of God as concerted by the Grand Council of Heaven cannot obtain the Knowledge of God, and I do not know but I may say they will drink in the Damnation of their souls. All those who are disposed to set up stakes for the Almighty will come short of the Glory of God. To become a joint heir of the Heirship of the Son a man must put away all his traditions.” (Joseph Smith, 27 August 1843 “Three Grand Orders” speech)

Most Mormons today reject the idea that living polygamy is acceptable in 2019; however, the reasons used by various factions to reject it are quite variegated. Old-school or conservative faithful LDS church members believe polygamy is an “eternal principle” in theory, but since “the Prophet says we shouldn’t right now therefore anyone who does live it (without the Prophet’s permission) is committing adultery – follow the Prophet.” On the other end of the spectrum: New wave, liberal LDS church members believe that polygamy was a terrible mistake made by the early church leaders/members, and “thank Goodness God has used the Living Prophets to correct such an Egregious Sin.”

I suppose it may also be worth mentioning that there’s a new movement within the LDS church called “the Remnant” that thinks that polygamy is an evil sin and Joseph and Hyrum never lived/taught it. Unfortunately, those who believe this reveal their ignorance or denial of historical fact, as well as an astonishing ability to selectively choose which scriptures they accept and which ones they reject. Further comment on this tangent could also fill a book, and is beyond the scope of this post.

And lastly, there are fundamentalists, who by definition absolutely believe in and practice plural marriage. Yet they condemn anyone who practices it outside of their authority as sinners. I ask you which is worse: sin, or hypocrisy?

What’s amazing is that if we discover we have been in the wrong, we can repent and be forgiven as long as we 1) make reparations if we’ve wronged others and 2) turn away from our wrong behavior and do better moving forward. I hope this post has provided information and a new perspective that will help us become better neighbors to plural families that we may not agree with regarding religious belief and affiliation, as well as help us become better prepared to account to God for how we judge others.

Unfortunately, my brother isn’t a polygamist.

When we began telling people we were polygamists, we told them in the wrong order.  We should have told my parents last, rather than first; as it turns out, my father has a big mouth, and couldn’t respect my simple request to allow me to tell people my news myself.  I asked him not to tell anyone for a month, and he promised me that month, and yet within 48 hours he had called both my bishop and his own bishop, confided in his friends and employees, and saddest of all, had announced my news to my brother, whom I really wanted to tell personally.

To his credit, he did call me afterwards and insist, “You should tell your brother your news.”  When I asked him why he was going out of his way to suggest that, he would only repeat himself.

So, I called my brother on the phone.  He was on a road trip with his wife, driving across the desert with spotty cell service.  Between me wondering what my dad had already told him and the phone call frequently getting dropped, the conversation took place in less-than-ideal circumstances.

After I finished telling him, my brother’s immediate response was the following: “What’s going on?  What do you need?  Do you need money?  Do you need help getting out?  Tell me what you need from me; tell me how to react, and I will.”

I answered that I didn’t need money, I didn’t want out of the situation, that all I wanted was his acceptance.  After he was convinced that I was safe, that I was being taken care, and that I was content, he stated his intention to be supportive.

And he has been.

This experience was what I thought of when I saw S2E4 (“Unforeseen Circumstances”) of Seeking Sister Wife.  Sophie Winder has a conversation with her brother about her polygamy, and he says he doesn’t understand it and doesn’t agree with it.

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Sophie says it sucks that her brother disagrees with polygamy.

However, she also says, “Unfortunately, he hasn’t chosen to live this lifestyle.”

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This is where Sophie and I differ.

I honestly don’t care whether my brother is a polygamist or not.  I also don’t care whether my friends are polygamists or not.  Naturally, if someone is a polygamist, that’s something unusual we have in common, which makes a friendship more likely.  But all I need from a brother or a friend is for them to be a supportive person in my life as a whole; I don’t need them to live exactly as I do.

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I’m friends with plenty of monogamists, and I don’t think it’s “unfortunate” that they haven’t chosen to live polygamy.  I still consider them to be “there for me.”

I definitely don’t think everyone should live polygamy.  Among other reasons, polygamy is extremely difficult.  In fact, Sophie’s brother cites that as a reason for not being interested in it.

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After the episode aired, Sophie published a post on the Winder family blog called “Live and Let Live.”  You can read it here.  You can also read Joshua’s thoughts on the same conversation here.

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Mama Donna (and Other Relatives)

Q:  You want to know what problem with polygamy is?

A:  Multiple Mother-in-Laws.

OK, joking aside (and I’m only partially joking), I feel the need to say a few words about the Snowdens’ most recent interaction with Ashley’s mother, Donna.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the Snowdens are doing great this time around!  But I did find something very disconcerting about the most recent episode of Seeking Sister Wife.

Let me also say, I am very happy that Dimitri’s surprise turned out so well.  It was a bold move for Dimitri, and, after all the extreme discomfort, Mama Donna was ultimately very graceful.  It was a gratifying moment, and a lot of the credit for this had to do with Vanessa’s heartfelt and touching words – she is a gem.  I think she won Mama Donna over.  I also have to give some applause to TLC and the producers of Seeking Sister Wife.  They are the masters of suspense and of the awkward situation.  The awkwardness was so thick it was palpable.  I’m sure there was so much editing and splicing in this scene, but it was entertaining nevertheless.

Alright, here is the issue I wanted to address: At 20 minutes and 24 seconds into the episode Dimitri says,

“If Mama Donna is not on board with Vanessa, you know, this could be the end of our relationship with Vanessa.”

the end of vanessa

As I mentioned earlier, I am very glad that things worked out for them, and I hope that this is not really what Dimitri meant to say; because, it is completely wrong to involve your parents, or your in-laws, in your marriage to the point of giving them veto power.  Yes, parents need to be respected and indeed honored, but they are also supposed to be left behind.

Genesis 2:24 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

They are supposed to be left behind in many ways.  They are no longer supposed to be relied upon for financial or emotional support.  And, while they may be consulted for advice, they are no longer to have any authority to make decisions for your life.  Adults, and especially married people, must live their own lives, be responsible for their own decisions, and responsible for their own support, independent of their parents and other relatives.  There is no closer relationship, and no bond tighter, than the one you have with your spouse(s).

This can be a very difficult thing for some people to do – difficult for both the parents and the children!  I remember making announcements to our own extended family members when we had become polygamous.  I had to remind so many of them that they could not make decisions for us, and to stop trying, and to stop fretting about it.  After all, it would not affect them any more than they allowed it to.

I liked so much what Sophie Winder had to say on this subject a little earlier in the episode when she was talking to her brother,

Sophie Tells it

“I feel like I’m living this lifestyle with Tami and Colton because I was called to it.  My marriage with Tami and Colton is what we build up, not what your opinion of it is.”

She goes on to say,

“The fact that my brother doesn’t necessarily agree with this lifestyle, you know, kind of sucks, but I firmly believe in my lifestyle, and I don’t feel like there’s any need to apologize, and so I’m going to choose what feels right for my life.”

Preach it Sophie!

Dimitri & Vanessa

My, my, my how things have changed with the Snowdens!  And much for the better, I think.  I love that they are giving it another chance despite what happened between Dimitri and Joselyn last season (and then what happened afterwards, when Joselyn was thrown under the bus).  There is forgiveness and a chance for redemption here, and I like that.  It is amazing actually, and really gratifying to see – so big kudos to them.  They are making me proud this season!

Dimitri seems to have his head in the right place this time (and all his other body parts are in the right place too); and no wonder, with the seemingly constant reminders from both Ashley and the producer.  I both laugh and cringe every time Dimitri is reminded of his poor behavior last season, but he seems to be handling the humiliation gracefully, and with the proper attitude.

I think he has realized that you can’t respect people and treat them as objects at the same time.  He respects Vanessa too much to sleep with her before there is a real commitment (a.k.a. marriage).

Dont cross this line

Remember that, ladies!  If you meet a man who wants to sleep with you, without being willing to marry you first, then just move on.  He doesn’t care about you.  He’s just using you.  He isn’t worth your time, and you are worth much more than that! 

I think Dimitri has realized that there is too much at stake, too much on the line, and that Vanessa is worth waiting for!  I thought it was funny at the restaurant, when Dimitri wouldn’t even touch her, and was drawing an imaginary line between them.  Some may have seen that as a little extreme (even Vanessa poked a little fun at it), but that is the way repentance works.  I know the Snowden’s are not Christian, but the concepts of repentance and forgiveness are universal.  Dimitri’s behavior with Vanessa reminds me of Jesus’ sayings about cutting off your hand if it offends you.  What would have been acceptable before, may need to be denied for the sake of avoiding temptation.

As for that Vanessa, wow, she is indeed a prize!  From everything we have seen of her, she is a priceless gem!  I do not think the Snowdens could possibly find a more perfect woman for their family.  She is thoughtful, bold, honest, caring, cautious, mature, loving, good with children, willing, devoted, and absolutely beautiful to boot. Vanessa is such a catch that it is incredible she hasn’t been scooped up and married by someone else long ago.

She has said repeatedly that she doesn’t want to mess things up, and she has been doing everything right.  She’s an amazing woman and she’s got everything you would want in a wife or a sisterwife.  I think they have hit the jackpot with her, and I am so impressed.  They had better not mess it up.  She’s a keeper!