“They Must Have Been Raised in Polygamy”

This is the first of a series of posts that I am calling, “For Gail“.  This  series will consist of my answers to a range issues brought up in comments (mostly on this post about the McGees, but also on the Dateonomics post by Taylor) and personal correspondence with a blog reader, Gail, back in April of 2019.

Nits make LiceOne of the views Gail repeats in her comments is that polygamists must have a sense of satisfaction and happiness that is stunted, malformed, or distorted in some way by their own upbringing in a polygamous family.  There is something seriously wrong with them. Thus, they can completely accept the inherent unhappiness and dissatisfaction they experience while interpreting it as its opposite: actual (or full) satisfaction and happiness.  Understandably, this makes Gail “sad” and “greatly troubled”.  Especially since (at least at the time of her writing) it was, by her own admission, impossible for her to understand things in any other way.  She says of my family’s reasons, “I cannot fathom [them] other than its how you were raised to look as marriage”.  Here are some longer quotes with more context so that we can better understand the issue at hand.  I have included links to the full comments as well, but please note that I will not be addressing every issue in every comment in this post – it is just too much to cover in one sitting (but I will be getting to everything eventually).

Speaking about Christine Brown (from the show, Sister Wives), Gail said:

“But she grew up in a plural family and I think her cultural upbringing formed her ability to find satisfaction and happiness in these circumstances. This intrigues me and yet saddens me at the same time. But I don’t doubt that plural families are intrigued and saddened by my perspectives regarding monogamy too.  – Gail, April 4, 2019

on another occasion, Gail went on to say about my own family:

“These inequities in your marriages greatly trouble me, but I think you and your wives just accept them for reasons I cannot fathom other than its how you were raised to look as marriage — as a group endeavor.”  – Gail, Apr 6, 2019

I am quite sure that Gail is not the only one out there who has difficulty with this concept, and, to be honest, I can sympathize with her and others who can only understand it thru this lens.  It is undeniably true that it is difficult (if not impossible) to comprehend something that you have no experience with.  In the case of polygamy, this is all the more true when the only reference point you have is what the media has to say about polygamists, which is almost all grossly imbalanced and sensationalized (but further comments on this will have to be its own post).  This is the source of most people’s information, and it is almost exclusively about one group of polygamists: the FLDS.

“Then there was the horrible Warren Jeffs trial that further soured my view.”  – Gail, April 4, 2019

The FLDS undoubtedly have many unique problems all their own, and their leaders have done plenty of things to muddy the public’s perception, but this will have to be its own post as well.

For many people, Gail included, the information they have also comes from reality television.  While this is actually much much better than the standard media coverage, it is still only glimpses, is distorted in sometimes surprising ways, and doesn’t really paint the full picture.

To all the people in this camp I would say that the chances are very good that you don’t personally know any polygamists (altho you might be surprised).  Therefore, to understand them you can only do so by analogy with your own way of thinking and feeling.  I would like to point out that there is nothing wrong with this – there is no other way of understanding things!, and I am not just talking about understanding plural marriage here.  No, no, my friends, this is true of all our understanding, and of every branch of knowledge.

When I pointed this out to Gail, she, to her credit, concurred.

“I agree that I cannot understand plural marriage well at all because I don’t see it lived day to day by anyone.”  – Gail, April 4, 2019

So, limited understanding, due to naivety on the subject (whatever it may be), is not a hurdle to comprehension.  It just calls for a little humility.  Problems come when those with zero experience, begin telling those who have experienced something what that thing is all about; and furthermore, wont accept their words as valid if they go contrary to their experience-less understandings.  Have you ever had this happen to you?

When my wives and I write about these things it is coming from an entirely different perspective than most of our readers.  Our knowledge isn’t second, third, or fourth hand at all.  We are living polygamy! and, in addition, we personally know and interact with dozens of other polygamist families as well!

Now we come to the really important thing that I wanted to communicate in this post.  I want Gail, and other readers in her boat, to realize that we also know perfectly well where they are coming from, because we were there too!  This is probably a difficult thing to wrap your mind around, (and understandably so because it is such a foreign concept), and doesn’t fit at all into your preconceived notions about it.  Therefore, just to make this explicit,  and I realize this may be a mind blowing realization to some,  I want to say:  In my family, we were all formerly monogamists, and we were all raised in monogamist families.  This has very little to do with the way we were raised.

Anyone who is sincerely curious to know about our family can read about our former monogamy and our mainstream LDS upbringing in one of several posts that we have already written (here, here, here, here, here, here, or here – it does little good to rewrite material that has already been organized and published as a post already).  So, when you tell us about the virtues of monogamy, you’re preaching to the choir. We love devoted monogamists, and think the world should have more of them! 

I just want you to know that we completely understand your point of view.  There is likely nothing that you can tell us about living monogamy that we don’t already know (because we were monogamists, like you), but there are things that we can tell you about polygamy (because we are polygamists, unlike you).  Please also know that we fully respect and accept the sincerity of your decision to be monogamist.  Please grant us the same sincerity.

Next I’m going to share an even more mind bending fact:  We aren’t even close to the only ones.  I do know many polygamists who were raised in polygamist families, but I actually know more who weren’t.  Dozens of them (both husbands and wives), were raised in monogamist families, and were monogamists themselves for a number of years.  Case in point, in the Brown family, which Gail mentioned earlier, Kody was raised in a monogamous, mainstream, LDS family.  I have actually visited with Kody’s mother (who was also raised monogamous – as was his father).  They converted to fundamentalism when Kody was on a mission for the LDS church!  Can you imagine? When he came home his family had joined another church (and one that he had been preaching against).  You should hear the things she said about LDS singles wards (haha, this will have to be another post).

It is not an uncommon occurrence within polygamist circles, for monogamists, and people who were raised in monogamy, to become part of a plural family, and I don’t think this fact is commonly known or appreciated by “outsiders”.  Rather, my strong suspicion is that that the common perception is that people are born into polygamy and then later flee, leave, or escape polygamy.  I’m not sure people realize that there is lots of movement the other way as well.  Normal, everyday people leave monogamy to become polygamists regularly.  The funny thing is that when people “escape monogamy” they usually just call it “divorce” – because no one (or nearly no one) believes that monogamy is something you need to escape.  The common belief is that the specific marriage, or the specific family situation, was bad or abusive and worthy of leaving.  This is in contrast to those who leave their plural marriages.  They don’t simply get divorced; rather, they “escape”!  Why is it so difficult to realize that there are some bad or abusive plural families just as there are some bad or abusive monogamist families?  It is because polygamy is unusual in our culture, and therefore easily sensational.

Having said all this, how do you account for this movement of people from monogamy and monogamist upbringings with the axiom that polygamists have a warped “ability to find satisfaction and happiness” because they were raised in a polygamist home?  No need to answer that question, because you can’t.  Without modification, the axiom does not even allow the situation to exist as a possibility.  Nevertheless the situation exists, and has continued to manifest and repeat itself for millennia.  Keep reading these posts, and you might gain a glimpse into some of the reasons why.  But beware! you may have to modify or discard this axiom.

One more thing, for those who might be interested in learning more (sorry for the short notice), on Saturday, August 3rd 2019 (that is today), session number 358 of the Sunstone Symposium will be titled:

Panel Discussion: Mainstream Mormon Women Go Plural

The brief description given on the website is as follows:

“This session features a panel of women who chose to leave mainstream Mormonism to live the polygamous lifestyle. Panelists include the stars of a popular reality show and women from a variety of polygamous sects.

This is your chance to pick their brains on how and why each came to choose plural marriage, how their family and friends have been affected, and what the various benefits and challenges of the polygamous lifestyle are.”

The session will begin at 2:00 pm in room 300-D of the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy, Utah.  Charlotte and Melissa will be there, as well as several other women.  It should be an interesting time.

What is Sealing? (Part I)

In my post about the social/legal side of marriage I said that I would write a future post about the spiritual aspects of marriage.  In particular, I am going to give some thoughts on the Mormon concept of “sealing”.  I realize this might not be interesting to all readers, but it is an essential concept for understanding the full import of Mormon polygamy.

The words that follow are adaptations of the words I prepared for a marriage rededication ceremony for some friends of mine.  Just to give a little of the back story, I will repeat the beginning of my previous post:

A few years ago (November 2015) some friends of mine decided to rededicate their marriage.  They threw a big party and asked if I would “officiate” at their ceremony.  It was a relatively informal event; I said a few words, and they renewed their vows with each other.  It was a beautiful thing, but the reason they were doing it was a bit disappointing.  You see, they had just left the LDS Church (the reason why is unimportant to this post), and the validity of their Church marriage (specifically their sealing – more about this later) was being called into question by some of their acquaintances.  This is sadly not an uncommon occurrence.  When the Church kicked us out we had the same experience.  Concerns were expressed to us that we had broken our covenants and now we were adulterers, had lost all our blessings, no longer had the Holy Ghost with us, etc.

My friends were not polygamists (never have been and never want to be), but many of the things I said will have obvious application to marriage in general.  Here we go.

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To express it briefly, sealing is all about a continuation of the family relationships that are formed in mortality.  The hope is that those relationships which have been sealed will have the power to extend beyond this life, and into eternity, or in other words, that the covenants involved in family life will continue indefinitely.

The belief is that there is something essential about human familial interaction that can be preserved and endure forever – if it is worth preserving (that is, if it is Heavenly).  While it is true that we may not know the exact details of Heavenly life, we believe that earthly life can be made to mirror Heaven in some respects, that earth can be made a little piece of Heaven, that the Kingdom of God can be within us, and among us, and that we can be personally (and as a family and even as a community) fashioned and made fit for Heaven as clay in a potter’s hand.

If you had to guess which one heaven was more like, a Church or a Family, which would you say?  I would say that Heaven is more like a Family than a Church.  In fact I would say that it was like one family in particular: The family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  In fact Jesus calls Heaven, “Abraham’s bosom“.  Those who enter are said to, “sit down” with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  And all the faithful who are Christ’s will be part of that family.  Whether natural branches or adopted in, they will be the seed of Abraham.

Capture

The structure of this family looks like this; there are 3 patriarchs at the head (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), below them are the 12 tribes (the sons of Jacob), next are the 70 descendants of Israel that entered into Egypt (which is symbolic of the world), finally there is the mixed multitude of their descendants and others who have joined them in their journey to the Promised Land.  This structure is very similar to the hierarchical structure of the Church with it’s Presidency (3), Apostles (12), 70s, and members.

But here is the question: is Abraham’s family supposed to be reminding us that the Church is the real thing to be a part of, or is the Church supposed to be reminding us that Abraham’s Family is the real thing to be a part of?  Well, I’ll give you a hint; Jesus never refers to Heaven as Russell’s bosom.

For Elder Parley P. Pratt, a knowledge of this doctrine of an eternal, heavenly family deepened his love for his own family:

     “It was at this time that I received from him the first idea of eternal family organization, and the eternal union of the sexes, in those inexpressibly endearing relationships which none but the highly intellectual, the refined and pure in heart, know how to prize, and which are at the foundation of everything worthy to be called happiness.
.     Till then I had learned to esteem kindred affections and sympathies as appertaining solely to this transitory state, as something from which my heart must be entirely weaned, in order to be fitted for its heavenly state.
.     It was Joseph Smith who taught me how to prize the endearing relationships of father and mother, husband and wife; of brother and sister, son and daughter.
.     It was from him that I learned that the wife of my bosom might be secured to me for time and all eternity; and that the refined sympathies and affections which endeared us to each other emanated from the fountain of divine eternal love. It was from him that I learned that we might cultivate these affections, and grow and increase in the same to all eternity; while the result of our endless union would be an offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, or the sands of the sea shore.…
.     I had loved before, but I knew not why. But now I loved—with a pureness—an intensity of elevated, exalted feeling, which would lift my soul from the transitory things of this grovelling sphere and expand it as the ocean.… In short, I could now love with the spirit and with the understanding also.”
– Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pp. 297–298

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Lester Ralph’s illustration from Eve’s Diary, pg 42

For those who love and cherish their families, and spouses, it would not fully be Heaven without them.  Mark Twain expressed it very well in, Eve’s DiaryThe final words of that story are Adam’s description of his beloved Eve:

“Wheresoever she was, THERE was Eden.”

Mormons get too wrapped up in authority. They argue with everyone about it.  They even argue among themselves about it.  For many of them it seems that authority, for all the reverence they give it,  is their religion, and this sometimes leads them to say foolish things.  Things like, “Plural marriage without the proper authority is sin.” or, “Unauthorized polygamy is adultery.” or, “Polygamy will damn those who practice it, unless their unions have been authorized by the One Man who holds all the authority (keys)”.

I’ll say a little more about authority in the next installment of this post, but for now I’d just like to point out that in section 132 the Lord mentions three separate cases where a man and woman can make a covenant with each other (these cases are in verses 15, 18, 19).  In every case mentioned, the covenant is between the man and the woman, or between the man, the woman, and God.  There are no mentions made of government officials, state approval, judges, magistrates, or licenses, nor priests, bishops, elders or other clergy.  Furthermore, in every case, no matter how it is done, the Lord calls it “Marriage”, and marriage is always honorable.

And yet, a marriage union has both civil and religious recognition and ramifications.  This is because marriage is fundamental both to our society here as well as in Heaven.  In D&C 130:2 we read,

“And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.”

Indeed, there is something potentially eternal about our relationships.  Hopefully, we will treat them that way.

What is Sealing? Part II