“You’re not a Mormon, are you?”

Hi, I’m Zoe, Joshua & Charlotte’s oldest daughter. Who would have guessed that this would be my maiden blog post? (No pressure, right?) I’ve toyed with the idea of contributing to this blog for a while now, and am finally pulling the trigger, so to speak.

We were in Missouri several weeks ago – my father, my younger brother, and I – to celebrate the Biblical Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles, in the English) as commanded in Leviticus 23:34-43. Most of the time we camped on the property of a lovely family we know out there who are also polygamous. (They have two wives currently.)

Also camping on their property were several other people, all of which knew the family well (including the fact that they are polygamous) except for one man.

We had all sat down to dinner one of the first nights we were there and I was lost in my own thoughts when I suddenly heard that one man say to the father of the host family, “I don’t mind you having two wives, but I’ve never met someone who has before.”

My mind snapped back to the conversation at present – obviously the man had just found out that our friends were polygamous, and his response was revealing.

“Ah,” I thought to myself, “You’re not a Mormon, are you?” (This is most notable because everyone else there was.)

You see, there are two kinds of Mormons – those who think polygamy is acceptable (these are generally Rocky Mountain Saints – those who came West with Brigham Young to Utah – with the notable exception being, of course, the LDS) and those who think polygamy is un-acceptable (generally the Prairie Saints – those who followed leaders other than Brigham Young after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and stayed in a more easterly location – and also the LDS).

So how could I tell the man was not a Mormon?

He started off by saying that he doesn’t mind polygamy – in other words, he was not LDS or a Prairie Saint – and then he said that he’d never met someone who was polygamous before – in other words, not a non-LDS Rocky Mountain Saint. If he was a part of a branch of Mormonism which did not allow polygamy, he would have most likely had strong feelings against the practice, and if he was in a branch of Mormonism which allowed polygamy, he would have met someone who was polygamous before, I guarantee it. Where polygamy is allowed in Mormonism, it is almost always practiced by at least a small percentage of the population.

It was an interesting moment, and my deduction was confirmed – the man was raised Baptist and later became a Torah-observant Christian, but was not Mormon in the least.

It’s rather funny to me, to be honest, to see how much some Mormons hate polygamy. Any LDS people who have significant (5-6 generations back) Mormon heritage are almost certainly descended from at least some polygamists, and the LDS church never codified scripture which condemned polygamy (yes, of course there is Official Declaration 1 – also known as “the Manifesto” – however, its message is more along the lines of ‘we do not sanction polygamy if the law is against it’ than what most LDS people think it is), yet most of them hate the practice with a passion.

And here was this man, his religion having no recent ties to polygamy, and yet he had no issue taken to the practice.

Perhaps, on second thought, that’s not so strange after all. We humans have a tendency to condemn most, and most vehemently, those faults which we have just recently overcome ourselves. So, if you are are seeing the world through a LDS paradigm, one in which polygamy is considered evil, then being cognizant of the ‘tainted’ past of your church and ancestors could have the effect of galvanizing your rejection of, indeed even repugnance toward, those who are so backward as to be still committing the sins of your own yesteryear.

Excuse me, ma’am, but Jacob had 4 wives.

I was still an active member of the LDS Church, and I was substituting as the pianist in primary.  Singing Time was over for the Junior Primary, so I had a few minutes to relax before the Senior Primary came in.

The Primary President was in charge of Sharing Time, and she was having the children role play some Bible stories.

Since we believe we are Israelites, Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) is a key person in our story and covenant heritage.  The trouble for a strictly monogamous Church is that Jacob/Israel inconveniently had 4 wives, and each wife was the mother of at least 2 of the sons who would become the namesakes for the “tribes of Israel.”

How does one tell the story of the family and hold Jacob/Israel up as a good example we should emulate without condoning his polygamy???

When trying to role play this awkward marital situation, what is a Primary President supposed to do?

She did what any self-respecting monogamous Primary President would do.  She pretended that Jacob had only one wife, giving her the credit for birthing all 12 of his sons (and 1 daughter).

I wasn’t a polygamist back then — in fact, I didn’t even like the idea of polygamy — and yet I was shocked at this blatant mis-telling of the common Bible story.

(Side note: The famous musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat mentions Jacob’s “wives and states that Joseph’s mother was Jacob’s favorite wife.  As far as I remember, the play leaves it at that; the plural wives are not major characters and they are never explicitly named, so the screenplay skirts around the polygamy issue without either making a big deal about it or being inaccurate.)

Screenshot 2019-10-29 17.21.24

Screenshot 2019-10-29 17.20.46

Back to the Primary President.  She invited 1 boy and 1 girl to the front of the room and let them dress up in some simple homemade costumes.  Then she introduced them to the primary as Jacob and his “wife“, who were the parents of the 12 sons we know as the tribes of Israel.

I was stunned.  I couldn’t let this error pass without comment, so from the back of the room, I raised my hand and opened my mouth and said,

“Excuse me, ma’am, but Jacob had 4 wives.”

The Primary President blushed and hemmed and stammered and couldn’t find a way to remove herself from the embarrassing situation she’d put herself into.  The story was cut short and the children were shooed back to their seats.

I felt bad for correcting the Primary President in front of everyone, and yet, what would you have done?

An hour later, when the same activity was being done with the older age group, I noticed that the Primary President still had children act out Adam and Eve, Noah and Mrs. Noah, Jonah, Daniel, David and Goliath, and so on, but she didn’t dare repeating the Jacob-and-his-monogamous-wife incident, and that story was left out.

Jacob family tree

Dateonomics

Note from the blog owner: Taylor is a new contributor to the blog.  This is his first post.  

The growing dating/marriage crisis within the LDS church is no secret; church leaders have been trying to figure out what to do about it, the single women and men in the church are suffering because of it, and even secular sociologists have taken notice (for example see time.com/dateonomics ). No longer are LDS women being deprived of marriage solely because LDS men are “slacking” in their duty to find a wife and have a family; the solution is no longer as simple as exhorting more LDS men to marry. It is much more insidious yet mundane – it is a simple math problem.

Currently within the LDS church, there are more than 3 single women for every 2 single men. This means that if every single LDS man married a single LDS woman, there would be 1/3rd of the single LDS women left over. One third. Let that sink in for a moment.

This is actually a very predictable consequence within any conservative institutionalized group which encourages members to marry within the group and have large families. When there’s a positive birth rate there will be slightly more 19 yr olds than 20 yr olds, slightly more 24 yr olds than 25 yrs olds, etc. Historically (perhaps even biologically), women on average tend to marry older men and men on average tend to marry younger women; the gap is usually about 4 years. Therefore a 24 yr old man is statistically more likely to marry a 20 yr old woman compared with a woman his own age, and a 23 yr old woman is statistically more likely to marry a 27 yr old man than a man her own age. The result? If a woman hasn’t married by the age of approximately 25-30, her prospects of finding a husband are disproportionately lower compared with the odds that a man the same age will be able to find a wife. 

Bottom line: for a moment, let’s ignore the trend that more LDS men leave the church in adulthood than women; let’s ignore that more LDS men marry outside the church than women, that on average more LDS men delay marriage than women, the possibility that LDS men on average are “less valiant” as a group than LDS women, or any other potential contributing factors – even if we set aside all of that, we can STILL expect to see this disparity between single men and women due to simple math and economics.

This dating/marriage crisis within the LDS church has reached the point of being essentially irreversible. This is why more and more leaders are promising faithful women that even if they don’t have an opportunity to be a wife/mother in this life, they can still lead a happy and productive life and look forward to having those opportunities in the next. While somewhat true, this is a very inadequate “solution” to the people affected so deeply.

Interestingly, another conservative group that noticed a similar trend (Hasidic Judaism) handled it with arranged marriages, and having men and women marry peers of their same age (20 yr old men marry 20 yr old women, 24 yr old men marry 24 yr old women, etc.). This could be a viable solution moving forward if it were institutionally enforced – for future marriage/family relationships; however, in the meantime, there is a huge group of single women that would still not have their needs taken care of. If only there was another option….

The elephant in the room is that there is a solution that doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination considering the historical precedents and doctrinal foundations of Mormonism/LDS theology. What if all single women in the church were to have their marriage prospects immediately expanded to include not just the single LDS men, but also the faithful, married LDS men? Voluntary associations between consenting adults such as this could certainly provide the opportunities for marriage and child bearing that are desired by so many LDS women, who will statistically never have such opportunities otherwise.

I would not encourage the LDS leadership to get involved in arranging marriages etc. as sometimes happened in the early days – too easy to exercise unrighteous dominion and violate agency. However, to remove the severe penalties currently enforced (note: LDS people choose to practice polygyny today are immediately excommunicated as a rule according to the policy in Handbook 1) and allow the biblical principles (ironically, those restored and practiced by Joseph Smith himself) including polygyny to again be accepted by the church, this would result in a grand reunion between the mainstream LDS church and so many fundamentalist break off groups. It would provide the opportunity for people to live according to God’s inspiration and revelation in their marital relationships, a climate which has been absent since 1890. Removing the stigma against polygyny – by removing the extreme penalties enforced by LDS policy currently in place – would be a huge step in the right direction for all of Mormonism/Restorationism.

My religious background and childhood experiences with polygamy

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.