My parents raised my siblings and me to be faithful, active members of the LDS Church. We were all born in Utah, we attended Church as a family every Sunday, and we accepted every assignment our Church leaders were in the mood to give us. We had Family Home Evening on Monday nights and every morning we read the scriptures as a family. As children we all got baptized at age 8, and as youth we attended all the requisite youth classes and activities. When I was 15 years old my dad became the bishop of our ward (local congregation). All of us married in the temple, and all the brothers and brothers-in-law served missions. Etc. We were “good Mormons.”
I was taught to receive personal revelation, but only in the context of 1. Gaining a testimony, and 2. Making big life decisions such as whom to marry and what career path to follow. Besides those 2 categories of revelation, knowing what to do was a matter of following the commandments and instructions as laid out by the Church leaders, both the local leadership and the General Authorities. It wasn’t until I was married with kids that I finally figured out I had been missing personal revelation category # 3. God’s guidance in the life of the individual, if she’ll only let him lead her down the path he has for her and her alone. (This fact was right in front of me the whole time, since General Conference and General Authorities give general guidelines, not specific directions. Duh. Man, am I slow sometimes.)
I remember when I was a young adult and I started to have questions about the Church and the gospel, my father would answer me by saying things such as, “Well, I’ve never heard that topic talked about in General Conference, so I don’t worry about it.” He genuinely believed (believes) that obeying and following Church leaders defines righteousness. This was what I was taught to believe as well, and that’s how I felt for my entire life up to my mid-20s.
My very limited experience with polygamy and polygamists
When I was a young child, my LDS aunt (my dad’s sister) became convinced that polygamy was required for exaltation (the Mormon name for the highest level of heaven), and when she couldn’t convince her LDS husband to take another wife, she left her marriage, deserted her 4 tiny children (the youngest was 6 months old), and became a plural wife. I would never recommend anyone do this. (Fortunately, my aunt’s amazing ex-husband ended up getting remarried to a wonderful woman who raised the abandoned children with love, and who has earned enough loyalty and respect from them to be called “Mom.”) I believe watching his sister make such a life-wrecking decision was traumatic for my father. I think it’s one of the reasons he rejected my polygamy so vehemently (I’ll share more details about his reaction in the future). He has had a difficult time seeing that in the case of his sister’s polygamy, her children lost their mother, but in the case of my polygamy, my children have essentially gained a mother.
I remember as a child seeing fundies in a grocery store and my mom hissing, “Don’t look at them — they’re polygamists!”
These few memories are all the experiences with polygamy I remember having in my childhood, aside from the confusing stories of polygamy I heard in Church itself, which I never understood but which I knew were controversial. Even in my gospel studies as an adult, I procrastinated looking into “the whole polygamy thing” because I had a vague idea that it was troubling, and I suspected I wasn’t scholarly enough to understand it or even retain my faith if I looked too deeply into it. As you’ll see later in my story, I never did get around to studying the issue, even though in 2013 I had clear enough personal revelation (category 3) to know God wanted me to live it and I plunged right in.