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.

Y’all have your own castle (SSW s1e2, c1)

In the episode of Seeking Sister Wife called “Risky Business,” Ashley tells her mom Donna that she and Dimitri are starting to date again.

“When I’m doing something I know my mom won’t approve of, I just love telling her about it!” said no one ever.

Screenshot 2018-01-25 07.40.19

I think the conversation between Ashley and Donna went pretty well; here’s what Donna said [timestamp 33:23], and it is my favorite SSW moment thus far:

You a queen and he a king and y’all have your own castle, so you make your own decisions, and you do you.

– Donna (Ashley Snowden’s mom), Seeking Sister Wife, S1E2

What better response could you expect from a parent?  I absolutely love this.

Parents need to let go of having control over (or even having a say in) their adult children’s lives.  I’m happy for Ashley that her mom could be so mature and accepting of a lifestyle she wouldn’t choose for herself or her daughter.

I’ve had my share of similar dialogues.  They can be very difficult.  In our house, we’re not allowed to complain, but we’re allowed to say that something is “not my favorite.”  So I’ll just say… Conversations like that one are not my favorite.

When we tell people about our polygamy, we never know what to expect, and we have gotten a whole spectrum of responses.

Some responses were laughable, some were cringe-worthy, some were supportive, some were hurtful, and some were memorable enough that they’ve become classic stories in our family.  We’ve been cursed (literally); we’ve had people overcome with the Spirit and gain a testimony that we’re doing God’s will; we’ve had people shrug as if we just told them we like to eat spaghetti for dinner; we’ve had the cops called on us; we’ve had our Church leaders called on us; we’ve had DCFS (child protective services) called on us; we’ve had people stop talking to us; we’ve had people tell us about Dreams they’ve had about us; we’ve had people act shocked; we’ve had people nod and say, “Yeah, I figured.”  We can never be sure how a person is going to react, but we always learn something about the person by how they behave towards us after they find out we’re polygamists.

Strangers have been easier for me to tell than people whom I’ve known my whole life.  I suppose it’s because with a stranger I have nothing to lose: if they respond negatively, the relationship ends before it even begins.  But with a long-time friend or a family member, I’ve invested in the relationship and will suffer a great loss if they reject me.

And rejection has been in plenty.  Perhaps I will describe the depth of it in future posts.  For now I’ll keep it on the positive side and share one of my favorite stories of a person’s reaction to my polygamous status:

We were at a large gathering and were meeting a lot of new acquaintances.  Joshua and Melissa met this guy and got introduced as husband-and-wife, and 5 minutes later I met the same individual.  He asked who I was married to, and I pointed out Joshua.  He was confused and said, “But… I thought she was his wife…” and I just stood there nodding and smiling, and it slowly dawned on him what that meant.  He said, “So… You’re polygamists?!”  I confirmed and waited to see what his reaction would be.  Pause… pause… pause… “That’s awesome!

All these experiences, both positive and negative, help us figure out who our true friends are and who it is we want to continue having in our lives.  And maybe my sisterwife Melissa is right when she says, “We are a test for people, to see whether or not they will be kind to us.”

 

Note: SSW s1e2, c1 means Seeking Sister Wife Season 1 Episode 2, Commentary 1