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When Will & Grace debuted in 1998, few could have imagined that scarcely a decade later, same-sex marriage would be regarded by many Americans as a constitutional right. Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York was no alarmist when he worried aloud that the next step in the marriage debate would be another redefinition to allow polygamy and infidelity. How did we get to this point?
It began with making what was once marginalized and tolerated seem normal and mainstream by calling into question the very idea of norms.
Plural marriage, or polygamy, continues to be one of the most well-known doctrines and practices associated with the Mormon tradition. Though LDS President Wilford Woodruff announced the official end of the practice in 1890, Mormon leaders continued to quietly marry plural wives up until the issue of the "Second Manifesto" in 1904. Today the Mormon church excommunicates any member involved in a plural marriage, but it is far from a dead issue. A common question is: Do Mormons today still practice polygamy? Much of today's confusion about this issue stems from two facts. [...] Several points of interest are highlighted by the documentation in this section: (1) Jesus was a polygamist, (2) only polygamists become Gods, (3) the LDS Church denies the practice, and (4) Joseph Smith denies the practice, even while being married to several women.
How can a woman be so indoctrinated that she accepts her husband has other wives? And how can she find the courage to leave? Catherine Elsworth meets a former Mormon who, at the age of 70, has decided to speak out.
Some St. George residents following the case, while having no use for Jeffs, see a complicated principle hanging in the balance. "I'm not saying polygamists are right or wrong, but what they are doing is part of their culture, their religion," argues Randy Shaw, owner of the Little Professor bookstore in town. "I don't think a 14-year-old should be married to her cousin, but you have to look at their culture and the fact that we have allowed it to go on for hundreds of years. With this trial, we are mixing government with religion. My question is, Why all of a sudden now? It's been going on forever here."
The real question is why was polygamy considered essential for exaltation in the early LDS Church while its practice today is grounds for excommunication?
In the July 2010 issue of Ensign, an official magazine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the LDS apostle M. Russell Ballard has an article entitled “Sharing the Gospel with Confidence.” Ballard’s main point is that Mormons should not get defensive when telling others what they believe. His first suggestion for talking about faith without being defensive is this: “Don’t let irrelevant issues drown out more important subjects.” What would be an example of an irrelevant issue? Ballard’s example is polygamy:
“This ended in the Church as an official practice in 1890. It’s now 2010. Why are we still talking about it? It was a practice. It ended. We moved on. If people ask you about polygamy, just acknowledge that it was once a practice but not now and that people shouldn’t confuse any polygamists with our church” (47).
Why are we still talking about polygamy? Let us count the reasons...
Daughter of the Saints (Contra) by Dorothy Allred Solomon.
Understandably, there is a shortage of first-hand, primary source material on the current practice of polygamy. Glimpses can be found in court records or police reports, but mostly the practice is shrouded in myth, rumor and mostly unreliable stories passed from teller to teller.
Thus, this contemporary account written by a woman readed by fifth-generation polygamists is both remarkable and courageous.
It provides a rare insider's account of growing up in the polygamist culture of a fundamentalist Mormon community in the 20th century. It was a culture of secrecy, silence, deprivation, fear, lies and persecution that ultimately led the author to abandon the group, enter a monogamous marriage and begin a search for her true identity.- Brave Author Details Living in Polygamy
Tulsa World, USA, Jan. 16,2005
Predators, Prey, and Other Kinfolk: Growing Up in Polygamy (Contra) By Dorothy Allred Solomon
Polygamous Families in Contemporary Society (Academic)
In this intriguing book, social psychologist Irwin Altman and anthropologist Joseph Ginat examine husband-wife and wife-wife relationships in contemporary Mormon polygamous families. The authors describe how husbands and wives in plural families cope with their complex lifestyle in various facets of everyday life, including courtship, weddings, honeymoons, adjustments to a new life, living arrangements, and the husband's rotation among wives. Other topics include budget and resource management, psychological attachments to homes, and the social-emotional relationships among family members. This pioneering, comprehensive analysis of life in modern day Mormon polygamous families uses first-hand interviews and observations to describe this unusual family lifestyle. It adds to our understanding of close relationships and complements knowledge on other modern relationship forms, such as single-parent families, blended families, and cohabitating partners. This is important reading for researchers in social psychology, anthropology, and religious studies.- Book description at Amazon.com
Just as A Mormon Mother is the standout memoir of a 19th-century polygamous woman's life, this autobiography offers the compelling voice of a contemporary plural wife's experiences. Daughter of a second wife, Spencer was raised strictly in the Principle as it was lived secretly and illegally by fringe communities of Mormon fundamentalists—groups that split off from the LDS Church when it abandoned polygamy more than a century ago. In spite of her mother's warnings and the devotion of a boyfriend with monogamist intentions, Spencer followed her religious convictions—that living in polygamy was essential for eternal salvation—and became a second wife herself at the age of 16 in 1953. It's hard to tell which is more devastating in this memoir: the strains of husband-sharing with—ultimately—nine other wives, or the unremitting poverty that came with maintaining so many households and 56 children. Spencer's writing is lively and full of engaging dialogue, and her life is nothing short of astonishing. After 28 years of polygamous marriage, Spencer has lived the last 19 years in monogamy. Her story will be emotional and shocking, but many readers will resonate with the universal question the memoir raises: how to reconcile inherited religious beliefs when they grate against social norms and the deepest desires of the heart.
- Source: Publishers Weekly, at Amazon.com
Under the Banner of Heaven : A Story of Violent Faith (Contra) by Jon Krakauer
In 1984, Ron and Dan Lafferty murdered the wife and infant daughter of their younger brother Allen. The crimes were noteworthy not merely for their brutality but for the brothers' claim that they were acting on direct orders from God. In Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer tells the story of the killers and their crime but also explores the shadowy world of Mormon fundamentalism from which the two emerged. The Mormon Church was founded, in part, on the idea that true believers could speak directly with God. But while the mainstream church attempted to be more palatable to the general public by rejecting the controversial tenet of polygamy, fundamentalist splinter groups saw this as apostasy and took to the hills to live what they believed to be a righteous life. When their beliefs are challenged or their patriarchal, cult-like order defied, these still-active groups, according to Krakauer, are capable of fighting back with tremendous violence. While Krakauer's research into the history of the church is admirably extensive, the real power of the book comes from present-day information, notably jailhouse interviews with Dan Lafferty. Far from being the brooding maniac one might expect, Lafferty is chillingly coherent, still insisting that his motive was merely to obey God's command. Krakauer's accounts of the actual murders are graphic and disturbing, but such detail makes the brothers' claim of divine instruction all the more horrifying. In an age where Westerners have trouble comprehending what drives Islamic fundamentalists to kill, Jon Krakauer advises us to look within America's own borders. - John Moe, at Amazon.com
Voices in Harmony: Contemporary Women Celebrate Plural Marriage (Pro) by Mary Batchelor, Marianne Watson and Anne Wilde
Polygamy is illegal in Utah and forbidden by the Arizona constitution. However, law enforcement agencies in both states have decided to focus on crimes within polygamous communities that involve child abuse, domestic violence and fraud. The Utah Attorney General's Office and the Arizona Attorney General's Office also worked together to produce "The Primer---Helping Victims of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse in Polygamous Communities." This manual provides basic information about various polygamous communities that will assist human services professionals, law enforcement officers and others in helping victims from these communities. The Primer will be updated regularly to reflect modifications in the law and changes in each organization's beliefs and practices. Click here to read or print the latest PDF version of The Primer
For more than 25 years, award-winning reporter Mike Watkiss, who himself comes from a polygamist background, has covered the intimate, personal stories from inside America's polygamist underworld. "Polygamy Diaries" is a collection of reports that Watkiss has produced for 3TV during the last decade.
Stephanie Sinclair was given rare and intimate access to the men and women of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). Sinclair's photos, taken during several periods since April of 2008, appear in National Geographic.
Sinclair spent about 18 months with the group, on-and-off. She started her project in Texas right after the raid in which more than 400 children were taken from the Yearning for Zion ranch. She told host Neal Conan, "it took probably four months to really start getting access, to start convincing them that [she] wasn't out to villianize them," or make judgments.
Sinclair spent time with polygamist, FLDS families in multiple communities in the U.S. and Canada.
Carolyn Jessop talks about her Escape from the FLDS
Flora Jessop -- a former member and current critic of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), Flora Jessop operates “Help the Child Brides” as well as the Child Protection Project.
Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
How polygamy went from being a “most holy and important doctrine” to being rejected - sort of - by the Mormon Church
Nave's Topical Index - Polygamy A series of Bible verses on the topic of polygamy.
Polygamy Entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
"Child Protection Project is dedicated to raising awareness about issues of child abuse within polygamy and other religious organizations. We are particularly interested in how institutions, especially churches, ignore child abuse reporting requirements; and thus cause unnecessary suffering and pain to children and families."
Hope for the Child Brides is a St. George, Utah based non-profit organization. We work with Help the Child Brides, a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to ending abuses in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) communities. ChildBrides.org provides information on the background of the Utah/Arizona and the Canadian FLDS polygamous communities, true stories of some of the victims of abuse, current events in the news regarding the issues surrounding these communities, and a portal to contact elected officials to voice your opinions about these issues.
The HOPE Organization This is "a non-profit group dedicated to assisting survivors of abuse within polygamous relationships
on their courageous journey to personal freedom."
LDS-Mormon.com (Contra) This extensive site by a Mormon skeptic includes a number of articles regarding Mormon polygamy.
Polygamy.org (Contra) "[D]edicated to the survivors of polygamy. This website is an on-going project by individuals whom left Mormon polygamy with the goal of empowering survivors while providing education, prevention, and resources to the public." Until 2009, the domain name was used by "Tapestry Against Polygamy," which dissolved.
The Principle (Contra) "The Center for Public Education
and Information on Polygamy." Extensive anti-polygamy site, operated by an ex-mormon (formerly married to a polygamist)
Safety Net "The Safety Net Committee began in 2003 by Utah's Office of the Attorney General. Government agencies, non-profits and interested individuals meet monthly in St George, Colorado City, Salt Lake City, and Arizona to ensure that people associated with the practice of polygamy have the same educational opportunities and access to justice, safety and services as the general public."
Tapestry Against Polygamy (Contra) A non-profit organization led by ex-polygamous wives and family members. It's stated purpose is to assist others in making ''the transition from polygamy to mainstream society.'' [Closed in 2009. Website archived at the Internet Archive]
Principle Voices (Pro) "[A]n advocacy organization committed to educating others about polygamous families and their culture, and to encouraging empowerment of individuals and families from the polygamous culture to secure for themselves equal representation and civil rights."
An earlier version of this entry was posted to Apologetics Index on June 16, 1998.
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