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article imageOp-Ed: Some Historical Perspective on the FLDS

By Sykos Masters     May 29, 2008 in World
At some point in the future, the offenders within the FLDS may be held accountable for their actions. Legal 'justice' will be served, 'appropriate punishment' will be meted out, it may even delay similar abuses in the future. All this is true .....
However, without facing the sociological and 'scriptural' foundations for plural marriage, there will be no long-lasting recovery, change in behaviour, or resolution. Should that become the case, there not have been true justice for the current generation of children or the many generations to follow.
The late 1800's, Brigham Young, and the Pilgrimage to Utah
There can't be a serious discussion about plural marriage in North America without acknowledging the influence of the early Mormon Church—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). It is important to note that neither the initial or present-day congregations practise polygamy as a rule (see LDS History). In fact, the few references in Mormon scripture have the caveat that this commandment could be changed and revoked at any time through direct revelation—the importance of direct revelation from God to the prophets is a fundamental tenet of the Mormon faith. However, polygamy was a issue of faith of the early pioneers and settlers of the western U.S. during the leadership of Brigham Young. He was the church leader, prophet and guide during the (forced) migration westward that had escalated after the execution of Joseph Smith—the founder and first prophet. Migration had begun under Smith's leadership in upper New York state, through Ohio, and eventually into Illinois and the surrounding area. Continued persecution and legal prosecution motivated the congregation of the mid 1840's—Brigham Young's time—to move to the undiscovered western frontier. As an article of faith, polygamy continued to be preached, required and sanctioned until the state of Utah was enfolded into the greater United States of that time.
In order to attain statehood—thereby ensuring protection against the British, French, Spanish and American Native Peoples—polygamy was outlawed. It soon became the 'white elephant in the room'. Plural marriages were still performed by church leaders, although the secondary unions were not legally recognized or registered with the authorities. Over time, the secondary unions were designated as spiritual marriages under the authority of Celestial Law (religious authority) and did not require the acceptance or legal standing of terrestrial (mortal) law. In effect, although polygamy was now a crime, it was only so on paper and had no effect on how life was—and is—in Utah and it's neighbouring states.
How the Mormon Church Became the Father of Other Sects
The Mormon Church, like many Protestant sects, began as a reaction to the many conflicting faith traditions prevalent in the U.S. during the early 19th century. Although the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) is currently getting the most air-time, there have been many other sects of the greater Mormon Church. Each has their own interpretation of the original teachings and church doctrine as each has their own reason for leaving the larger community and striking out on their own.
Much of the early turmoil and disagreement centred on the later interpretations of Joseph Smith's pronouncements and writings after his execution. Others had issue with how the church leadership and mission had changed in such a short time. Still others resented what they saw as capitulating to mortal law with no concern for one's immortal soul. Plural marriage was not the only change in fundamental daily life for early Mormons.
• Women had power in the community that would be only fully realized in the rest of North American society after the Suffragette Movement.
• Children, both male and female, were given equal education and expected to become fully contributing members of the larger community.
• While the men held the Priesthood, the women held positions of authority as midwives, councillors, and therapists.
It's not difficult to imagine that many of these changes rubbed the menfolk in the wrong way. Women and children weren't supposed to have rights ... they were supposed to be obedient and subservient to the Master of the home ... the menfolk. Each and every one of the successive sects that split from the original community throughout the migration from East to West did so under the direction of disgruntled men. Over time, many of those earlier splinter groups have either disappeared, been absorbed into the larger communities that grew up around them, or found themselves with no future due to an extreme xenophobia of the changing world around them. Simply put, they died out as viable alternatives to the original faith.
Polygamy, both as a belief and a practise, did not die out during this time. When Utah and the surrounding areas attained their respective statehood, polygamous extremists simply moved to more and more remote areas. Most stayed in the West, some moved further North and found themselves in a young Canada, others trekked back East to the Dakotas, Illinois, and Ohio. All of these groups learnt two important lessons about continuing to live as they believed:
• What had been a sacred practise had to become secret—not just in the 'We must never speak of this ...' sense, but a level of secrecy that required absolute obedience to the male authorities and must never be disclosed to the 'outsiders'.
• When forced to answer direct questions by 'outsiders', one must rely on the power of faith and the Constitution to provide sufficient protection from any mortal authorities.
The solution to ensuring that these lessons were remembered over the generations was quite simple. Instill a sense of fear and spiritual devotion in the community at large, impose a strict male hierarchy to provide leadership, keep the women and children as ignorant and uneducated as possible. Finding vast tracts of undiscovered, therefore unclaimed and unpopulated, land in mid 19th century America must have seemed like a gift from God.
FLDS - Brief History
The FLDS would have you believe that their history reached far back into the West of the late 1880's. This is not so. Their sect was only formalized in the 1930's when a new prophet, John Y. Barlow, was 'revealed' to disparate followers in Arizona at that time (see FLDS history). Like it's forefather church, the FLDS was a reactionary movement—in this case, the Great Depression. Capitalism and greed had destroyed the country, American society seemed to be in an ever-increasing downward spiral, the 'faithful' had become as Sodom and Gomorrah, God was punishing the world. I don't know about you, but it sounds like the kind of apocalyptic ravings that always happen after a major societal upset. Over the next two decades, there were failed attempts at reining in this new religion and their practise of polygamy—once in 1944 and again in 1953. The results were so damaging to both the community members and the politicians of the time, that no further serious attempts at prosecuting the practise of polygamy have been made to this day.
This has not changed. The current investigation in Texas concentrates on the vile rape and forcing of spiritual marriage on teen girls, the continued abuse of women and children in the YFZ ranch, and the indoctrination of these children in a lifestyle that is damaging (as it is followed there) and illegal. I doubt greatly that any of the legal authorities in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, or British Columbia (Canada) will actually have the backbone to prosecute the offence of polygamy. One can only hope.
Polygamy as a Societal Norm
There are also a number of polygamous communities throughout the world—although North America stands apart as on of the few Western cultures that has such a vast array of polygamous communities following Christian faith traditions. Throughout North and East Africa, the Middle East, regions of Asia. and many aboriginal cultures, polygamy is not only the norm, but it is revered and practised in a healthy manner. There are many plausible explanations for this alternate family and community style, which include:
• In times and societies where births are heavily skewed toward one or the other sex.
• During periods of severe famine, war, or other cataclysmic event that decimates a community of its adult members of child-bearing and child-rearing age.
• When a community decides that a specific set of traits is important enough to warrant passing that trait on to as many children as possible.
• As a sign of status or great power awarded, or assumed, by those in power.
The major difference between legal (first) spouses and others within a family unit is one of degrees: the first spouse may have exclusive inheritance rights, children of the first spouse may be the only ones to carry the father's name, the first husband—in cultures that allow women multiple spouses—may be chosen by his prowess as a hunter or warrior, while secondary husbands have other useful skills. Whether legal spouse, concubine, or secondary spouse with no legal standing, the resulting family unit often operates in much the same manner.
Would it surprise you to know that a form of polygamy is widely practised throughout the Western (civilized) World? Sociologists and Social Anthropologists have a term for it: Serial Monogamy. If you think about it, there is little difference between having several spouses at the same time and having a series of spouses over one's lifetime. There are often children from each marriage that become the responsibility of a larger set of 'parents', divorce is no guarantee against further contact or interaction with a former spouse, inheritances issues clog courts the world over between members of a person's several family units. The term 'blended family' refers to the phenomenon of merging two families, each with one parent and their own children, into one family unit. There is very little practical difference between these legally recognized unions and those practised by members of the FLDS and other religions.
However, there is one major difference ... the rampant and widespread abuse of children raised in these insular societies.
Raising a Child to Be the Bearer of Children
What is now coming to light in Texas is appalling, vile, disgusting, and worthy of all the contempt available. Unfortunately, the English Language is poorly equipped to adequately express my loathing of what is and has been happening to the children of YFZ. There is no excuse for the abuse and neglect, there is no justification for purposeful miseducation and training of the women and children, there is no ready solution to the current crisis or ensuring that this never happens again. Unfortunately, there is a possible explanation for the mind-set that resulted in this atrocity.
Earlier, I mentioned that one of the lessons learnt in the early days of splinter sects from the LDS was Secrecy. The best way to ensure such absolute secrecy in the beginning is to isolate one's community as much as possible from those that would interfere with daily life. This choice has served other insular communities in North America quite well, e.g., the Amish, Pennsylvania Dutch, and Mennonites. Their success, in this arena, is due in part to their relatively wide network of communities from which they can exchange family and adults for future families. They also allow outsiders to become members of their communities to varying degrees. Any good geneticist or social anthropologist will tell you that as long as there is a ready supply of diverse or new genetic material, even an insular society can maintain its uniqueness without fear of disappearing or dying out. Somewhere along the way, the leaders of the FLDS either didn't get the memo or felt that their faith would, once again, show them an alternate route to expanding their population base.
Much of the following is supposition, as proof directly from the source is non-existent, but let me postulate. Up until the late 60's or so, the FLDS was likely moving along quite nicely. By this time, they had re-learnt the lesson of secrecy and were determined not to allow the raids of earlier decades to interrupt their spiritual movement toward the highest heavenly kingdoms. Plural marriage was a 'commandment' ... regardless of what scriptural doctrine actually said. As is was, and is, a central tenet of their faith, a way had to be found to continue the practise while remaining under the radar. The solution was to 'circle the wagons', i.e., only members of the various FLDS communities throughout the U.S. and Canada would be allowed to have contact with each other. Nobody in ... nobody out. They had plenty of eligible young adults to bring further generations into the flock, the men continued to maintain absolute control, the women and children were still obedient, the outside world seemed to have forgotten all about that 'odd group of pioneers over there'. What could possibly happen to break the cycle of generation upon generation of similar folk seeking mortal redemption and immortal glory at the right hand of God?
Was it the Women's Movement of the 70's? Was is the sudden outbreak of reports of child abuse in other religious faiths and the larger society? Was it the slow realization that North American society had been complacent about which laws it would and would not enforce? Was it the dawn and eventual explosion of the Information Age? Or was it simply the quiet, halting cry of a young woman or man that could no longer accept the abuse that was being suffered and decided that 'eternal damnation' and disbelief from outsiders was preferable to the living hell that she or he had been living in? I don't know .... but I do know that some major change(s) contributed to the slow—at first—escape from the FLDS.
Solitary mothers, leaving their children behind, escaped and began to tell their stories. After enough mothers had spoken out, other religious and social crisis agencies began to listen and eventually aid the mothers. Soon mothers escaped with their children. What had been secret was no longer so. The child bearers had begun to leave the community.
In terms of genetics, flow charts, and statistics, what followed seems both harmless and elegant. Nothing could be farther from the truth!!
Where there had been a ratio of many more women to men in the community, it now had the potential to approach parity. Suddenly there was no certainty that every man would be guaranteed his three wives as required by scriptural law. Actions had to be undertaken to return things to normal without opening the community to the scrutiny of outsiders ...
• Use the young men as slave labour as long as possible and then exile them from the community. This would ensure that the 'Elders' and favoured mature men would have the pick of the eligible women.
• Interpret community law and doctrine in the most narrow manner possible. Thereby justifying the exile / excommunication of mature men when all the young men have already been culled from the herd.
• Begin lowering the age of marriage or the women from the early 20's in gradual increments. As all marriages except the first are not governed by mortal law, this would have the full backing of church doctrine. When in doubt, claim divine revelation.
• Make it known to the trusted men (Elders) that the accepted age is actually lower than that advertised to the community at large. After all, the women and children aren't likely to argue as they've been trained and raised in complete obedience for generations.
• Disavow and sever any connection to 'former' members of the FLDS. They had sinned against God and were cast out of the community; they did not leave to escape abuse and mistreatment
• Continue to wear Freedom of Religion as a banner and shield. Each Judeo-Christian sect has their oddities, other religions have many or no gods, atheists live unpunished in 'One Country under God'. Why should things be any different for the FLDS?
• Continue the transport of 'eligible' young women and men across state and international borders as long and as secretly as possible. It's not like the U.S. and Canada are going to engage in an incident over something so minor; nor are they likely to work together to solve the crisis.
Combine this train of reasoning with a less than stable mind, the pathology of a sociopath, and the belief of a pharisee ... add in a generous amount of plausible deniability from legal authorities, season with a dash of historical precedent ... then mix until you have the magic formula of 1 part truth to 2 parts falsehood.
Not a terribly original mixture of factors, but then why fix something that isn't broken. Similar chains of events have been fabricated throughout time by many infamous leaders.
Where Do We Go From Here ?
I don't know. I have no idea what the ephemeral 'We' should or will do. I only know what I will continue to do. I will continue to report, blog, discuss, provide information, and otherwise be a thorn in the side of the FLDS and any other community that finds solutions to their problems by abusing other members of the community. I will gather like-minded people to the cause of ending this ... not just the current crisis ... ending the abuses of this practise entirely. I will continue to be one voice among many screaming out against these abuses and others. I will not turn away and consider this someone else's problem. I will listen for that quiet, halting cry in the darkness. I will argue that 'freedom of religion' does not include the subjugation of others in a search for glory in the after-life.
I stand proudly and say ... Back the hell up!! This far and no further!! You will be found guilty and your deeds will no longer be secret. The world will know of your actions and they will likely not be as merciful as how your perceive God to be. Rearing and training are no excuse for being an idiot and abuser as an adult. You have been warned.
What are you going to do?
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