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Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Intro: Polygyny, Membership purge

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About polygyny in the FLDS:

There are many North American laws on the books which criminalize group or plural marriages. However there has been an apparent lack of will on the part of state and provincial governments to actually prosecute offenders. There are some indications that this situation may change soon in British Columbia, Canada.

According to Fact-Index.com:

"The [FLDS] church teaches plurality of wives as a general requirement for the highest eternal salvation of men. It is generally believed in the church that a man should have [a minimum of] three wives to fulfill this requirement. Critics of this belief say that its practice leads unavoidably to bride shortages and likely to child marriages, incest, and child abuse. The church currently practices 'The Law of Placing' under which all marriages are assigned by the prophet of the church. Many outside of the church, and some inside, view this practice as unduly authoritarian though it helps address by edict the problem of wife shortages. Under the Law of Placing, the prophet elects to give or take wives to or from men according to their worthiness." 1

Typically, the husband will have only his first marriage registered with the state. Subsequent wives receive only a religious marriage that are not registered. These "sister wives" present themselves as single women and apply for welfare. This is known as "bleeding the beast" -- the beast being the government.

Wikipedia reports that Roulon T Jeffs, the second leader of the group, is alleged to have had 22 wives and more than 60 children. 2 Adams wrote that the current leader, Warren Jeffs:

"...is estimated to have around 40 wives, at least a dozen of whom were formerly married to his father, and about 56 children. Most of his time is spent managing church affairs, but he also is described as an accomplished singer/songwriter."

Under "The Law of Placing," Jeffs decides which woman marries which man in the FLDS community; he also has power to forcibly divorce a couple at any time.

Marrying so many wives of his late father would produce some complex family relationships. A person can be one's half-brother one day and one's step-father on the next day. 3

Women living under Muslim laws (WLUML) have discussed the implications of patriarchal polygyny on women within a number of excommunicated Mormon denominations which have broken away from the LDS church:

"Women and girls who have fled polygamous families report that religious teachings emphasize their duty to submit to the authority of their fathers, husbands, and male religious leaders, and make spiritual salvation contingent on polygamy. The religious teachings of these polygamous groups and the closed nature of their communities create conditions in which women and girls are especially vulnerable to violence, coercion, and abuse."

"Reported cases indicate a pattern of child marriage, sexual abuse and trafficking, in which girls from the ages of 13 to 16 have been married to older men and girls are being trafficked to Canada for marriage to polygamous men in British Columbia. Adult women have also described battering, intimidation and sexual abuse within polygamous families. Young women inside these communities are vulnerable to coercion by family members and religious leaders to enter polygamous marriages.  Trained to obey religious teachings and denied any other education, they may see no real alternative."

[There are] "...reports indicating that girls in polygamous groups are frequently removed from the public school system by age 11 or 12.   Utah and Arizona officials say they lack the legal authority to monitor whether children removed from schools are being taught in their communities or the qualifications of people who may be providing instruction.  Access to books, magazines, radio, television and other information from the outside world is cut off.  In addition, many polygamous families live in conditions of poverty, and lack adequate health care and nutrition." 4

In an article on Islamic and Christian fundamentalism, the United Methodist Women quote part of the WLUML report and conclude that:

"This practice creates conditions for women where they are vulnerable to violence, coercion and abuse." 5

Author Monte Paulsen, writing in Mother Jones magazine, estimates that, in the FLDS: "Women reportedly bear an average of 10 children each." Jenny Larson is a former member of the FLDS but has since left the group and helps other women escape. She is reported as saying:

"It's a cult is what it is. They tell you who to marry, what to wear. People there are so brainwashed, they're like puppets. The leader says 'frog,' and they jump. It's unreal."

Referring to young women who have escaped the group, she is reported as saying:

"It's hard not to help when they come knocking on your door. They don't know how to cope. They have no money and no skills." 6

Benjamin Bistline spent part of his childhood among polygynists in Short Creek, AZ -- now called Colorado City. He has written a book about his experiences. 7 He has observed that:

bulletOlder men are urged to take child brides before the girls are attracted to boys of their own age.
bulletMale youths are driven out of the community so as to leave a surplus of females.
bulletPlural wives are expected to apply for government assistance as single mothers.
bulletMen who lose favor with the leader are often evicted from their homes. Their wives and children are reassigned to another man or men.
bulletMembers are afraid to disobey the leader, because they fear they will lose their salvation. 6

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Polygyny in the FLDS from a child's perspective:

"Kathy" published her story in Today's Christian Woman magazine:

"I was one of 13 children raised by our father and three mothers in a polygamist community in Utah. We were fundamentalist Mormons who practiced the original teachings of Mormonism from its founder Joseph Smith. This teaching includes following the Principle, which states a man must practice polygamy -- marrying at least three wives -- to enter the Celestial Kingdom." 8

"Even though I knew which woman was my biological mother, we were encouraged to treat all the wives the same. Outwardly, our family seemed content, but beneath the surface lay jealousy and pain. We never acknowledged these feelings because we were supposed to sacrifice our emotions. Even laughter was discouraged."

"We [children] were constantly told to 'keep sweet' and that 'perfect obedience produces perfect faith.' Behind these sugary slogans lay the impossible duty of living in complete obedience to the Prophet.

In Fundamental [Church of Jesus Christ of] Latter Day Saints (FLDS), the Prophet is the earthly leader and mediator between God and man. Women are on this earth to serve their husband and obey the Prophet. If a woman does this faithfully, her husband may invite her to join him in the Celestial Kingdom. A woman's eternal fate depends on keeping this Principle. ...

The Prophet is in charge of the Placement of young girls in marriage. The quality of her Placement depends on her level of sweetness. Knowing this, I tried very hard to live in obedience. At age 14, I began sewing my wedding dress in anticipation of my Placement. I hoped I'd like my future husband, but I feared my fate would be like those who never knew love. 9

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Membership purge:

Brooke Adams, a reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune, reported on a purge of the membership during 2004:

"A trickle of expulsions turned into a stream in January when Jeffs ousted some of the community's most prominent and long-standing members, calling into question their standing here and in the afterlife. Ever the school principal, Jeffs has told men he has cast out to provide a list of their spiritual failings to see if they match up with transgressions revealed to him by the Lord. Wives and children have been separated from husbands and fathers; parents and children, brothers and sisters have ended up on different sides of this theological divide. Many are accepting these familial rearrangements in perfect obedience, believing their salvation depends on it. ' There has been so much conflict and needless turmoil and sorrow that has been put on families in the name of religion,' said a woman associated with the Canadian branch of the FLDS church. 'Kids who used to play with their next-door neighbors aren't allowed to do that and are saying nasty things to each other when they meet across the fence, like, "Your father is going to Hell".' " 3

Wikipedia reports that about 20 men were excommunicated in the 2004-JAN purge. Their marriages were cancelled, and their wives and children were redistributed among other FLDS men. 2

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints," Fact-Index, at:  http://www.fact-index.com
  2. "Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  3. Brooke Adams, "Thou Shalt Obey," Salt Lake Tribune, 2004-MAR-14, in the archives at: http://www.sltrib.com  Reprinted by RelgionNewsBlog at: http://www.religionnewsblog.com/
  4. "Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  5. "Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints," Fact-Index, at:  http://www.fact-index.com
  6. "Calls for action: USA: Polygamy related abuses in Utah," Women living under Muslim laws (WLUML), 2002-FEB-15, at: http://wluml.org/
  7. "UMW Action Alert - Fundamentalism: A Barrier to Peace and Justice," United Methodist Women, 2004-JAN-30, at: http://gbgm-umc.org/
  8. Monte Paulsen, "Hellraiser!," Mother Jones magazine, 1994-JUL/AUG, at: http://www.motherjones.com/
  9. Book coverBenjamin Bistline, "The Polygamists: A History of Colorado City, Arizona," Agreka Books, (2004). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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Copyright © 2004 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-JUL-25
Latest update: 2010-FEB-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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