“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.

Mark Twain and the Mormons

It has been a while since I posted anything on this blog, and many things have happened since my last post. Sadly, many of those things will have to be left without comment – the moment has simply passed. But, in order to get back into writing, I thought I would start with a simple, and lighthearted post, and one which I have been wanting to write for some time.

Mark Twain in 1867

In 1872 Samuel Longhorn Clemens, (Mark Twain) published an autobiographical account of his travels thru the Wild West during the span of years from 1861-1867. It was during these travels in the pioneer west, that he first made use of the pen name, “Mark Twain”. While on these travels Samuel learned many things; among them was “how far he could push a joke” a lesson learned from some “disagreeable experiences” he brought upon himself.

He made these travels with his older brother, Orion Clemens, who was the newly appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory (its first and only). In writing the account, Twain relied on his brother’s diary to refresh his memory. In order to fill in the gaps, he borrowed heavily from his own active imagination, and wry sense of humor.

Altho I would recommend the book generally, it is very long, being 608 pages. And tho I have read a good deal of it, I could not push myself to complete it before the library stopped allowing my renewals.

However, for the interest and entertainment of the reader, I will reproduce some briefer quotations from the book below. The Great Salt Lake City, founded by Mormons in 1847, became known as, “The Crossroads of the West”. A great many travelers, famous, infamous, and otherwise, came thru Salt Lake City in those early pioneer days. Many of them were naturally curious to see the Mormons and their peculiar ways; namely, plural marriage. Samuel Clemens was no exception, and goes on for several chapters of his book, Roughing It, describing his experiences in Utah among the Mormons.

In the beginning of Chapter 13, after arriving in Great Salt Lake City (more commonly known today by its short form, “Salt Lake City”, or even just, “Salt Lake”), Twain reports:

We had a fine supper, of the freshest meats and fowls and vegetables—a great variety and as great abundance. We walked about the streets some, afterward, and glanced in at shops and stores; and there was fascination in surreptitiously staring at every creature we took to be a Mormon. This was fairy-land to us, to all intents and purposes—a land of enchantment, and goblins, and awful mystery. We felt a curiosity to ask every child how many mothers it had, and if it could tell them apart; and we experienced a thrill every time a dwelling-house door opened and shut as we passed, disclosing a glimpse of human heads and backs and shoulders—for we so longed to have a good satisfying look at a Mormon family in all its comprehensive ampleness, disposed in the customary concentric rings of its home circle.

He goes on to say:

Next day we strolled about everywhere through the broad, straight, level streets, and enjoyed the pleasant strangeness of a city of fifteen thousand inhabitants with no loafers perceptible in it; and no visible drunkards or noisy people; a limpid stream rippling and dancing through every street in place of a filthy gutter; block after block of trim dwellings, built of “frame” and sunburned brick—a great thriving orchard and garden behind every one of them, apparently—branches from the street stream winding and sparkling among the garden beds and fruit trees—and a grand general air of neatness, repair, thrift and comfort, around and about and over the whole. And everywhere were workshops, factories, and all manner of industries; and intent faces and busy hands were to be seen wherever one looked; and in one’s ears was the ceaseless clink of

One Crest

hammers, the buzz of trade and the contented hum of drums and fly-wheels.

The armorial crest of my own State consisted of two dissolute bears holding up the head of a dead and gone cask between them and making the pertinent remark, “UNITED, WE STAND—(hic!)—DIVIDED, WE FALL.” It was always too figurative for the author of this book. But the Mormon crest was easy.

The Other

And it was simple, unostentatious, and fitted like a glove. It was a representation of a GOLDEN BEEHIVE, with the bees all at work!

We saw the “Tithing-House,” and the “Lion House,” and I do not know or remember how many more church and government buildings of various kinds and curious names. We flitted hither and thither and enjoyed every hour, and picked up a great deal of useful information and entertaining nonsense, and went to bed at night satisfied.

On the next day Twain was very much excited to meet the famous, Brigham Young, but the feeling was not as mutual as he would have liked.

The second day, we made the acquaintance of Mr. Street (since deceased) and put on white shirts and went and paid a state visit to the king. He seemed a quiet, kindly, easy-mannered, dignified, self-possessed old gentleman of fifty-five or sixty, and had a gentle craft in

Brigham Young

his eye that probably belonged there. He was very simply dressed and was just taking off a straw hat as we entered. He talked about Utah, and the Indians, and Nevada, and general American matters and questions, with our secretary and certain government officials who came with us. But he never paid any attention to me, notwithstanding I made several attempts to “draw him out” on federal politics and his high handed attitude toward Congress. I thought some of the things I said were rather fine. But he merely looked around at me, at distant intervals, something as I have seen a benignant old cat look around to see which kitten was meddling with her tail.

By and by I subsided into an indignant silence, and so sat until the end, hot and flushed, and execrating him in my heart for an ignorant savage. But he was calm. His conversation with those gentlemen flowed on as sweetly and peacefully and musically as any summer brook. When the audience was ended and we were retiring from the presence, he put his hand on my head, beamed down on me in an admiring way and said to my brother:

“Ah—your child, I presume? Boy, or girl?”

As for Twain’s intentions to bring about a reformation of the Mormons, on the subject of polygamy, he had these sobering words to share in Chapter 14:

Our stay in Salt Lake City amounted to only two days, and therefore we had no time to make the customary inquisition into the workings of polygamy and get up the usual statistics and deductions preparatory to calling the attention of the nation at large once more to the matter.

I Was Touched

I had the will to do it. With the gushing self-sufficiency of youth I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a great reform here—until I saw the Mormon women. Then I was touched. My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically “homely” creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, “No—the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure—and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence.”

And finally in Chapter 15, he shares a humorous tale which, tho fictitious, has a kernel of truth. It was supposedly told to Mark Twain by a Gentile named Johnson:

Mr. Johnson said that while he and Mr. Young were pleasantly conversing in private, one of the Mrs. Youngs came in and demanded a breast-pin, remarking that she had found out that he had been giving a breast-pin to No. 6, and she, for one, did not propose to let this partiality go on without making a satisfactory amount of trouble about it. Mr. Young reminded her that there was a stranger present. Mrs. Young said that if the state of things inside the house was not agreeable to the stranger, he could find room outside. Mr. Young promised the breast-pin, and she went away. But in a minute or two another Mrs. Young came in and demanded a breast-pin. Mr. Young began a remonstrance, but Mrs. Young cut him short. She said No. 6 had got one, and No. 11 was promised one, and it was “no use for him to try to impose on her—she hoped she knew her rights.” He gave his promise, and she went. And presently three Mrs. Youngs entered in a body and opened on their husband a tempest of tears, abuse, and entreaty. They had heard all about No. 6, No. 11, and No. 14. Three more breast-pins were promised. They were hardly gone when nine more Mrs. Youngs filed into the presence, and a new tempest burst forth and raged round about the prophet and his guest. Nine breast-pins were promised, and the weird sisters filed out again. And in came eleven more, weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth. Eleven promised breast-pins purchased peace once more.

“That is a specimen,” said Mr. Young. “You see how it is. You see what a life I lead. A man can’t be wise all the time. In a heedless moment I gave my darling No. 6—excuse my calling her thus, as her other name has escaped me for the moment—a breast-pin. It was only worth twenty-five dollars—that is, apparently that was its whole cost—but its ultimate cost was inevitably bound to be a good deal more. You yourself have seen it climb up to six hundred and fifty dollars—and alas, even that is not the end! For I have wives all over this Territory of Utah. I have dozens of wives whose numbers, even, I do not know without looking in the family Bible. They are scattered far and wide among the mountains and valleys of my realm. And mark you, every solitary one of them will hear of this wretched breast pin, and every last one of them will have one or die. No. 6’s breast pin will cost me twenty-five hundred dollars before I see the end of it. And these creatures will compare these pins together, and if one is a shade finer than the rest, they will all be thrown on my hands, and I will have to order a new lot to keep peace in the family.

Sir, you probably did not know it, but all the time you were present with my children your every movement was watched by vigilant servitors of mine. If you had offered to give a child a dime, or a stick of candy, or any trifle of the kind, you would have been snatched out of the house instantly, provided it could be done before your gift left your hand. Otherwise it would be absolutely necessary for you to make an exactly similar gift to all my children—and knowing by experience the importance of the thing, I would have stood by and seen to it myself that you did it, and did it thoroughly. Once a gentleman gave one of my children a tin whistle—a veritable invention of Satan, sir, and one which I have an unspeakable horror of, and so would you if you had eighty or ninety children in your house. But the deed was done—the man escaped. I knew what the result was going to be, and I thirsted for vengeance. I ordered out a flock of Destroying Angels, and they hunted the man far into the fastnesses of the Nevada mountains. But they never caught him. I am not cruel, sir—I am not vindictive except when sorely outraged—but if I had caught him, sir, so help me Joseph Smith, I would have locked him into the nursery till the brats whistled him to death. By the slaughtered body of St. Parley Pratt (whom God assail!) there was never anything on this earth like it! I knew who gave the whistle to the child, but I could, not make those jealous mothers believe me. They believed I did it, and the result was just what any man of reflection could have foreseen: I had to order a hundred and ten whistles—I think we had a hundred and ten children in the house then, but some of them are off at college now—I had to order a hundred and ten of those shrieking things, and I wish I may never speak another word if we didn’t have to talk on our fingers entirely, from that time forth until the children got tired of the whistles. And if ever another man gives a whistle to a child of mine and I get my hands on him, I will hang him higher than Haman! That is the word with the bark on it! Shade of Nephi! You don’t know anything about married life. I am rich, and everybody knows it. I am benevolent, and everybody takes advantage of it.

I hope you all enjoyed these accounts, and can see the humor in them.

Happy Pioneer Day!

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!

The Briney Family and Season 2 of Seeking Sister Wife

I suppose all the viewers have realized by now that the Briney family is not returning for the second season of Seeking Sister Wife, and I just wanted to say a few words about that.  Of course, as a polygamist myself, I will have a somewhat different view on things than most others.

Different people will want different things from a show about polygamy.  Some will want simple entertainment; the novelty of seeing a glimpse into the lives of real-life polygamous families is in itself a compelling reason to watch.  Others might find it educational.  They might be interested in how a polygamous family works, how do they manage their time, raise their children, what are their living arrangements like, sleeping schedules, etc.  Others will look forward to seeing drama and bickering.  The misery of others can be cruel sport.  There will even be some who watch with hopes of seeing plural families fail in a public way.  This will add further justification to their negative views and stereotypes relating to polygamy, and fuel their support of (and efforts to reinforce) political, social, and legal barriers to those families.  As for myself and the rest of the polygamy community, I think we all hope that shows like this will be good publicity, good PR, and will generally show the positive, functional, and healthy side of this kind of family.  We hope that they will help to change the largely negative public perception of plural families.  Yes, every family, indeed every individual, has problems and struggles, but last season of Seeking Sister Wife was, frankly speaking, a disappointing train wreck.

This is not all the fault of the Brineys, of course, but I know they have a similar feeling about their own showing last season.  Here are some quotes about it from their family blog, The Briney Family.

I see bitter bickering and failure to abide by basic Christian principles that leaves me feeling inexpressibly sad and extremely regretful that we, as a family, set such a bad example of our lifestyle on national tv. Worst. Disappointment. Of. My. Life.  – Drew (We See What We Want to See)

I’m truly heartbroken we’ve set such a bad example of our lifestyle that we fed that culture to whatever degree we did. – Drew (We See What We Want to See)

As a family (including April), we were all devastated at how poorly our family represented our Mormon fundamentalist friends and peers. We’d hoped to show how most polygamist families were normal, good people.  – Drew (April’s Apology regarding Season 1)

April herself has told my wives and me in person that she has regret about the way things turned out on the show.  Before anyone thinks I am picking on the Briney family, I want to say also that the family represented on TV was not a representation of their usual family life!  The Brineys are also in agreement with this point.

We know that the mentally stable April would not have done the things that she’s done. – Angela (Why the Brineys are Not Returning for Season 2 of TLCs Seeking Sister Wife)

These types of viewers notice that we’re “real” because we allowed ourselves to show our bad side on camera so people can see what the lifestyle is “really like.” I swallow hard when I hear that one. Our first season doesn’t show what our lifestyle is “really like.” It shows us experiencing our worst train wreck as a family! – Drew (We See What We Want to See)

We’d hoped to show how most polygamist families were normal, good people. Instead, unforeseen challenges led us to be a poor example of our lifestyle, our culture, and our peers. – Drew (April’s Apology Regarding Season 1)

I personally believe that their sudden television exposure, with its accompanying change of living arrangements (all moving in together in the same house), was a HUGE stressor to their family that they would not have been exposed to otherwise.  It is not uncommon for families to end up broken after large, traumatic life changes (one spouse gets a serious disease – even if they are later cured, a child dies, a child is born, career changes, becoming empty nesters, etc).  It happens, and it is tragic.

What happened with the Briney family was a tragedy as well.  I love them all and still and count them as friends.  April has been to my house several times since then and Drew and the rest of his family are welcome to visit as well.

Having said all that, I want to thank TLC!  I know that many people have expressed dismay that the Brineys did not come back, but not me.  Personally, I am glad of it, and I think TLC made the right decision.  I know that even the Brineys (Drew, Auralee, and Angela) wanted the story of their family breaking up to air, but things are probably better this way.  I think it would have been bad for everyone (all the members of the Briney family and the larger plural community as well), to have to live their personal family drama thrice. Once as it happened; once again when it was edited, distilled to its most potent form, and aired on national TV; and again when dissected and criticized ad nauseam by all the insensitive onlookers on social media. How can that be good for anyone?  What person or relationship could thrive under those circumstances? It would wither anyone.

I hope, now that the pressure and stress of being in the public eye is largely gone, that the Briney family can rest, recuperate, reflect, and put all the pain and drama behind them.  Who knows, maybe they’ll even be back for a future season after taking a break for a while.

Forgetting is actually an important part of our mental function and mental health.  Forgetting helps us to live our lives in relative peace and be able to focus on the present.  Having old offenses repeatedly dug up and examined (which is what would have happened had the juicy story aired) will not help us to live abundantly in the now.  Forgetting offenses is an important part of forgiveness.  The scriptures testify repeatedly that God will not only forgive our sins, but also forget them.  They will be blotted out.  He will mention them to us no more!

God bless the Briney family.

See here for some ideas if you are interested in helping the Briney Family.

Polygamy’s Jealousies and the McGees

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster
which doth mock the meat it feeds on.

(Othello, Act 3, Scene 3)

In the first episode of the second season of Seeking Sister Wife we are introduced to some new people.  The lovely McGee family (Bernie and Paige).  They seem like a very tightly-knit and loving family, and the interaction between their two boys brings an involuntary smile to my face.  They are very likable people, and I’m looking forward to watching how things work out for them.screenshot 2019-01-25 23.28.43

However, we do get several glimpses into their past attempts to add a wife to their family, and it seems that Paige’s jealousy is going to be a serious and recurring issue.  And naturally so!  There is nothing wrong with jealousy!  After all, Jealousy is God’s middle name.  Okay, okay, I’m not sure if that is entirely true, but it is one of his names at least:

For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:

-Exodus 34:14

See!  There you go, jealousy must not be such a bad thing after all!

To be clear, I believe, that none of our fundamental natural desires or impulses are, of themselves, bad things.  The sin always comes from the perversion of our desires.  The desires themselves are God-given and innate.  Wrongs comes from the excesses and the misapplications.  We want things at the wrong time, or in the wrong way, or in the wrong amounts, and don’t always consider how our efforts to achieve our desires appear to God or to our fellow beings.red lizard

For those who know the reference, our desires are like a red lizard sitting on our shoulder and whispering in our ears; arguing for us to give selfish and vile expression to our natural inclinations (for those who don’t know the reference, it is The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis).  drawing-a-circle-with-the-compassesThey are a serious hindrance if unbridled and allowed to run free.  Appetites and passions are to be kept within the bounds the Lord has set.  Food is good;  we are even commanded to work for it (Gen 3:19, 2Thess 3:10), but too much of it and we are gluttons.  Wine is something to look forward to (Isa 25:6), but drunkenness is a thing to be avoided.  Human sexuality is a blessed and pleasurable thing, but is also the greatest snare and temptation of many people’s lives.  Money has definite value, and using it facilitates our exchanges for goods and services, but making it the object of our affection is the root of many evils.  You get the idea.horse

On the other hand, if bridled, trained, controlled, and allowed to give their proper vent, our natural inclinations can become our blessing, our strength, and our happiness.  This transformation may not be an easy one, but will be well worth the trade for anyone concerned enough to make it!

Back to jealousy.  It can be good.  It has a purpose.  The key is to find out what it is for and when it should be felt.  If we can figure out our own selves, and our own emotions (even if it is an incremental process), we will simplify our lives and the lives of everyone around us.

First we must understand what jealousy is.  Of course we all know what jealousy feels like, but I think it will be useful to discriminate between it and a very similar emotion, envy.  In many cases these two words may be very close in their usage.  They can both indicate a longing to posses something.  However, the word jealous carries the particular sense of “vigilant (or zealous) in guarding a possession”.  Jealousy also carries the connotation of a suspicious fear of losing something.  In other words, properly applied, jealousy ought to be used to describe feelings of protectiveness for things that are our own; for things that already belong to us (our own advantages, attachments, relationships, and possessions).  Thus, God is jealous for his people, for we are his!

We cross a line into envy when we begin to have similar emotions, but for things that are not ours.  Another word for envy is covetousness.  It is feeling possessive of things that we do not posses; it is feeling entitled to things to which we do not have a right.  This of course, needs to be suppressed, and not allowed to take root.

Here then is the purpose of jealousy: it is one natural mechanism to preserve the romantic bond between spouses. It functions to encourage fidelity between parents (or potential parents).  The jealous anger of one partner being both a deterrent to the infidelity of the other, and also a self-motivator for the person experiencing it to fight for the restoration of the bond.  This (a strong bond between spouses) of course leads to a multitude of benefits for their children (or potential children), and their subsequent reproductive success.

Predictably, men and women feel jealousy in different ways, and for different (but significant!) reasons.  To quote clinical psychologist, Dr. Vinita Mehta:

“Romantic jealously is widely understood to be different for men and women because each gender has a different level of investment in reproduction. For a man to provide for genetically distant children decreases his reproductive success—and because men are uncertain whether they really are the father of said children, they are most susceptible to [experiencing jealousy over] sexual infidelity. By contrast, women can rest assured that they are the mother of their own children; however, they are more dependent on men for resources, making them more sensitive to [experiencing jealousy over] emotional infidelity, since it could threaten the supply of resources for herself and her child.”

Generally speaking, women are concerned (on a basic, visceral level) that their partner’s affection for another woman will lead to a weaker emotional connection, and therefore less desire to care for them, or even that the emotional connection will be altogether severed, causing the man to abandon them for the other woman.

This all goes back to the scriptural, God-given roles and responsibilities for men and women in marriage.  This is the Biblical marriage covenant in a nutshell.  To quantify this difference, a large study, published in 2014 (this is not the only study confirming these results), reported that men were significantly more likely than women to be upset by sexual infidelity (54% vs. 35%), and significantly less likely than women to be upset by emotional infidelity (46% vs. 65%).

There are many things that could be said about the result of this study, but I want to mention two.  First, this does not mean that women don’t feel jealousy over sexual infidelity, or that men don’t feel jealousy over emotional infidelity; rather, it means that their primary causes of jealousy are generally different, and this has significant effects on the way that men and women think and act.  The other thing to mention about this finding is that it has nothing to do with age groups, income levels, history of being cheated on, history of being unfaithful, relationship type, relationship length, cultural differences, etc.  Like it or not, this difference is an innate, biological difference.

So, how does knowing any of this help the Paige McGees of the world?  I think there are at least two useful lessons that can be gleaned from the above.

1) Jealousy is natural, and can even be good, but care must be taken that it does not spill over into envy or covetousness.  In order to keep jealousy within a righteous bound, we need to be certain of what is ours to be jealous over.  In marriage, wives have a right to financial support for themselves and their children.  They have full claim on their husband for that purpose.  However, they do not have exclusive rights to him sexually.  This is important to know because it can keep you from worrying over things that are not yours to worry about.  To put it another way, you shouldn’t feel jealous over things that aren’t yours.

2) Understand that the source of your jealousy may largely (even unconsciously) come from a fear of being abandoned (emotional infidelity).  This is certainly a rational fear, as we all know; this scenario has played out many times before.  Many monogamous relationships have been broken by an unfaithful man tragically abandoning his wife and children for another woman.  However, if you can realize that, in the case of polygamy, your husband is not at all interested in trading you for another woman, but rather wants to keep you both (or however many wives there may be), then that ought to restore your confidence that you are not being abandoned!  At least it ought to increase the confidence in your mind – there may still be a battle with emotions, but what’s new paige and bernieabout that?  If he is a godly man, then he still wants you to be his wife just as much as ever, his emotions towards you are just as strong as ever, and he still wants to keep his commitment to you and your children just as much as ever.

So, to Paige, and to all the other plural (and potentially plural) wives out there I say: Have confidence in your husband and in your relationship, keep working on maintaining and improving your own relationship with your husband, and don’t worry too much about things that are not your business to worry about.

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

Polygamy and the Command to Multiply (commentary on D&C 132:34-35)

law-of-sarah

I have witnessed many, and sometimes heated, debates about the status of polygamy in God’s eyes.  The variations in position cover the following range of beliefs:

  • It is an abhorrent adulterous abomination to God, and always has been.
  • It is an adulterous abomination, but only presently, and has been allowed or commanded in the past (this is the view currently held by the LDS Church).
  • It is technically allowed (or tolerated) by God, but is not considered ideal (this view is held by some Christians, Martin Luther for example).
  • It is not only allowed, but also considered equally favored by God in comparison with monogamy (this view is held by some in the Hebrew Roots movement).
  • It is always a positive commandment of the Lord (altho it has been withheld from the wicked), it is favored above monogamy, and living it brings the highest possible blessings (this view is held by the various fundamentalist Mormons).

Of course, there are many variations and gradations of these positions, I am sure, and I apologize if I have missed anyone’s  particularly favorite view point.  There is at least one additional position not listed, which I will unfold in this post.  But first, let’s look at some often misunderstood (and criticized) verses of Mormon scripture:

D&C 132:34-35 God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law…Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it.”

Why is this particular passage so often misunderstood and criticized? On its surface it is really quite simple; anyone reading the account in Genesis about Hagar will see in a moment that Abram takes Hagar to be his wife at Sarai’s urging, while God seems to be silent in the moment.

Genesis 16:1-3 Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.  And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her.  And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.  And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.”

The Bible says it was Sarai’s idea; section 132 says it was to fulfill God’s command.  Section 132 says it was to fulfill “the law”; the Bible makes no mention of any law being followed.  Therefore, section 132 contradicts the Bible, therefore section 132 is false. QED.  If only the world were so simple.

Of course there are many other objections to section 132, and I will get to some of them in future posts, but for now I will stick to this objection.  Actually, this objection  often goes further to say that God never commanded polygamy; not in Abraham’s case and not in any other case either.

The truth about polygamy in the Bible is neither as bleak as the detractors hope for, nor as rosy as the Fundamentalists would like. 

While it is true that polygamy was never commanded in a general sense in the Bible, there are several instances where it is most certainly commanded in a limited sense.  First we have the levirate marriage situation:

Deuteronomy 25:5-6  “If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her.  And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.”

This command is general in that the marital status of the next brother is not a factor at all.  In other words, this command may result in polygamy if the next of kin is already married; he will still be required to add his deceased brother’s wife to his family, and to provide an heir for his brother’s house by having children with her.  Certainly, this would not result in polygamy in every instance (for example, if the next of kin were single, widowed, or divorced), but it would amount to commanded polygamy otherwise.

Next we have the case of premarital sex between a man and an eligible woman.

Exodus 22:6  “And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.”

Deuteronomy 22:28-29  “If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.”

As in the previous case, there is no mention made whatsoever of the marital status of the man (only of the woman).  Like the previous example, this command would not always result in a polygamous union, but in cases where the man were already married it certainly could.  Both of these laws are made to protect the woman, and to prevent her from being abused, either by tragic circumstances or by unscrupulous men.

So there we have two cases where polygamy may be commanded in certain situations.  However, neither of these applies to Abraham and Hagar (altho you might argue that the second case applies).  How then can section 132 claim that Abraham took Hagar as wife in order to fulfill the law and command of Yehovah?  One solution is to simply believe that the command was given but was unrecorded.  This is certainly a possibility, but I don’t think it is necessary to believe this in order to harmonize the verses.

A third case where polygamy might be commanded was in the case of infertility, and this certainly was the case for Abraham and Sarah.  Among the first commandments given to man by God was the command to multiply and replenish the earth.  As strange as this may sound at first, this commandment was for the men only.  Some of the ancient rabbis taught that the command to have children wasn’t necessary for women, since they were seemingly hardwired to want that anyway.  Of course the men need the women in order to fulfill this command; nevertheless, it was the men’s responsibility to fulfill, and this has always been the Jewish understanding of the matter.  How can this be so?

Genesis 9:1, 7-9  “And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth…And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein. And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you;”

Here God is speaking to Noah and his sons only (and to all the future sons of Noah).  Here is another example in Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel:

Genesis 35:10-11  “And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob:… And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins;”

Here’s another interesting one:

Psalm 127:3-5  “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.  As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them…”

Polygamy can allow a man to have a larger family than he could with a single wife.  Of course, there are some women that are capable of handling a large family on their own.  I am in no way discrediting this; indeed I admire this, but not all women have the same threshold for children (whether biological or psychological), and this will vary widely from woman to woman.  Some would be happy to have a dozen or more while others would rather have none, or want some but are unable.  I personally came from a family of 7 children (I am the eldest), and while I certainly would not want to send myself or any of my siblings back, it ended up being too many for my mother (if you asked her, she would not have wanted to send any of us back either).  She suffered multiple mental breakdowns and institutionalizations during the latter part of her life.  As a result, she had relatively little to do with the raising of my youngest siblings.  My father was happy with 7, and my mother was too (if you asked her), she just might have been happier with 4 or 5.

Despite all that, the obvious objection to this view of the commandment is to point to the case of Adam and Eve:

Genesis 1:27-28  “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

The Jewish understanding of these verses looks at the entire injunction, rather than isolating the multiplying and replenishing part only.  God also says to subdue the earth and to have dominion over it, and over everything on it.  These are largely male activities; which gives us a clue as to who was being addressed.  Of course Eve was to be Adam’s help in fulfilling all these things, but the ultimate responsibility was on Adam’s shoulders.  Here is a verse that illustrates the Hebrew view of the dominion that was enjoined upon man:

Psalm 8:4-6  “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?  For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.  Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:”

Here then is a third situation in which polygamy was commanded in the Bible.  If a man had an infertile wife (and the large majority of infertility problems stem from the female), then he ought to seek another wife in addition to his first in order to keep the law and responsibility placed upon him to multiply and replenish the earth.  The commonly understood length of time is 10 years of infertility (this is the rabbinical tradition), but might be any reasonable length of time.  After this time the couple ought to be looking for another wife if they are serious about keeping the injunction to multiply.  This is not to say that another wife could not be added before this time, or for another reason, but that after this time has elapsed the responsibility becomes more serious.

For many modern Jews, the option of polygamy has been made unavailable to them by the decree of Rabbi Gershom in the year 1000 A.D. (or thereabout).  This rabbinical decree made polygamy unlawful in the Diaspora (and also made it illegal to snoop by opening other people’s mail).  There is some controversy about this ban and when it may have expired etc.; however, the general practice among Jews is to continue this ban out of tradition.  Unfortunately, this means that a modern Jewish man in this situation may have to think about divorce in order to fulfill his duty to procreate, and among Jews this is seen as a justifiable reason to seek a divorce.  Not that divorce is required by the rabbis, only that it is justified.  Still, I think it is a very sad state of things for those in this unfortunate situation.  it would be much better if they would just embrace the law that was already given them, rather than encumbering it with traditions of the elders.

Abraham was promised by Yehovah that his seed would be both numerous, and also a blessing to the whole world.

Genesis 22:17-18  “That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;”

This is the law and commandment which God had given to Abraham, and to all other men as well.  Even if God did not single out Hagar by name as Abraham’s next wife, it would still be perfectly correct to say that Abraham and Sarah were keeping the law and God’s command by adding Hagar to their family.

Let me put it another way.  If the verses in section 132 were talking about marriage in general (and not about polygamy specifically), and had said something like this instead:

“God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave herself to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law…Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it.”

No one would probably complain (because monogamy isn’t controversial), even tho the Bible doesn’t explicitly say this anywhere – God did not directly command Abraham to marry Sarah by name.  Hopefully it would be easy to see that Abram married Sarai because it is God’s law to marry and reproduce (it is not good for man to be alone and all that jazz).  Who knows, this may have also been Sarah’s idea.  Regardless, it is the command of God for men to find a willing and eligible woman, get married to her, and attempt to reproduce.  In other words, a similar argument can be made in support of Abraham’s monogamy as in support of his polygamy.  In both cases he was seeking to fulfill God’s law and command.  In so doing Abraham was blessed, and the promises were fulfilled.

D&C 132:30,34  Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins…and as touching Abraham and his seed…both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if ye were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them…God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.”

This then illustrates an additional view on plural marriage which was not among those listed at the beginning of this post:  It is a form of marriage which is always honored by God if it is lived in a righteous manner (the same can be said of monogamy), and is sometimes commanded, but not necessarily for everyone in every situation.  I do believe there is freedom in these things; most people are not required to live polygamy, but anyone may if they choose.  However, there are times when it positively must be lived, and, like every other law of God, it is a law which ought to be kept when God’s word requires it of us.