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Polygamy: The Fundamental(ist)s


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#1

BatFantastic

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Posted Mar 10, 2006 @ 3:43 PM

This is the disclaimer that will reportedly run for each episode of Big Love:

According to a joint report issued by the Utah and Arizona attorney general’s offices, July 2005, ‘approximately 20,000 to 40,000 or more people currently practice polygamy in the United States.’ The Mormon Church officially banned the practice of polygamy in 1890.


From pre-show articles I've read in the Old Big Love thread, I get the impression that HBO put the disclaimer up as favor to the LDS church. Here are some articles that show that the disclaimer itself is misleading:

Big Love's disclaimer needs a disclaimer
Big Love, September Dawn, and The Solomon Key (Big Love's disclaimer is discussed in the first third of the article.)

Sounds like this show will stir up controversy and questions. I thought I'd start a thread devoted to non-plot related religious discussion and questions.

Here is the basic beliefnet.com entry on polygamy and the LDS church.

This is much more interesting. It's an FAQ written by a polygamist in Utah. I don't think the percentages are too accurate, but the perspective is fascinating. I had no idea what polyandry was and didn't know that the LDS church used to practice it. If you do read this, just keep the source in mind.

I grew up in West Jordan, Utah (close to where the Henricksons live). There were kids of polygamists that went to my middle school. I saw polygamist wives at the grocery store all the time. They do NOT look like Jeanne Tripplehorn by the way. I don't think it's as prevelant as the FAQ above makes it seem, but most polygamist families keep to themselves.

Then again...I could just be super naive (it wouldn't be the first time...or the second). There were a few of people in my ward ('ward' is an LDS term for a church congregation) that had a single woman living in a mother-in-law apartment.

Edited by BatFantastic, Mar 10, 2006 @ 3:54 PM.


#2

pujolsistheman

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Posted Mar 10, 2006 @ 4:14 PM

Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of "revelations", almost all of which came from Joseph Smith and which are regarded as divine revelation by the church. This is the section that lays out the doctrine of "plural marriage", or Mormon polygamy. Although the church discontinued polygamy in 1890, and the announcement to that effect is also in the Doctrine and Covenants, Sec. 132 is still included.

#3

Edwin F. Sneller

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Posted Mar 10, 2006 @ 4:20 PM

There are currently polygamists living down the block from me - I went to elementary school with many of their kids, until they were all pulled out for home-schooling. I think Big Love would be better if it portrayed the Henricksons more closely to all of the polygamists I've seen - long sleeves, long dresses, boys always in button-down shirts - rather than in the more "normal" styles I've seen in promo materials. But then, I guess it would harder for them to be undercover.

In my neighborhood, seeing polygamists is no big deal, but everyone gawks when a Catholic priest walks by.

#4

eejm

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Posted Mar 10, 2006 @ 4:51 PM

From I've gathered at the HBO website, only one of the wives (Nicki) actually came from a fundamentalist family. Barbara was a Mormon but not a fundamentalist, and it sounds as though Margene sort of fell into the family after working for Bill. Nicki still has the somewhat pioneer-ish wardrobe, and from the few pictures on the site, the women at the compound dress ultra-conservatively.

#5

torianne84

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Posted Mar 10, 2006 @ 5:03 PM

Enthused Fish posted this in the Old Thread...

The Official Mormon Statement

#6

gatorxx

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Posted Mar 11, 2006 @ 2:41 PM

I've done some reading on the subject recently including the wonderful Jon Krakauer book "Under The Banner Of Heaven" which explains a great deal about the history of polygamy and how it fits with modern Mormonism. He asserts that the figures are actually much higher than what HBO is saying. Tapestry Againt Polygamy also states that the figure is above 100,000 living in polygamy.

But from what little I've seen and heard of the show it's not going to be much of an accurate representation of polygamy in the first place.

#7

Maxymama

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Posted Mar 11, 2006 @ 7:21 PM

I haven't read that book or really done any research except for the occasional 20/20 or Dateline episode, but it seems like the greatest problems with polygamy aren't the moral issues surrounding having multiple wives. It is the prevalent sexual and physical abuse, as well as welfare fraud. I don't understand why polygamy is illegal. Perhaps if it were legal, people would (eventually) come out of hiding and so these many problems would be uncovered as well.

#8

Clea

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Posted Mar 12, 2006 @ 4:42 PM

I think Big Love would be better if it portrayed the Henricksons more closely to all of the polygamists I've seen - long sleeves, long dresses, boys always in button-down shirts - rather than in the more "normal" styles I've seen in promo materials. But then, I guess it would harder for them to be undercover.


I took a class at the University of Utah a couple of summers ago that was about controversial issues. It was a night class and the first half of the class (about an hour and a half) would be speakers on one side of the issues and then after the break the people on the other side would come and speak.

One night was polygamy night and the first half was wives speaking about their lifestyles. The women were bright, articulate and were just the same as many other women in Utah dress, which is modest but not pioneerish. They spoke about how liberating it was to "have the security of a good marriage but have the freedom of a single life." Some had grown up living that lifestyle and some just felt that it was the way God wanted them to live their lives. There are several different sects and families of polygamists and they tend to vary in their philosphies on dress, education for women and other issues like that.

Edited by Clea, Mar 12, 2006 @ 4:43 PM.


#9

Shanimal

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Posted Mar 12, 2006 @ 5:02 PM

They spoke about how liberating it was to "have the security of a good marriage but have the freedom of a single life."

Interesting, Clea. I certainly never thought of it that way. In my part of the country, the only real-life polygamists I've been exposed to are some sketchier members of the FLDS who look as if they've just stumbled off the set of "Little House on the Prairie" or, worse, "Deliverance."

#10

Martelthehammer

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Posted Mar 12, 2006 @ 11:11 PM

This might be somewhat off-topic... if so, I'm sorry.
Though "Big Love" is about Mormon (lapsed or otherwise) Polygamy, there is another lifestyle that is much the same: Polyamory

#11

attica finch

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Posted Mar 13, 2006 @ 1:00 PM

the wonderful Jon Krakauer book "Under The Banner Of Heaven"

I'll second this as a very good book -- a well-researched and lively read.

#12

Learned Hand

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Posted Mar 13, 2006 @ 1:14 PM

the wonderful Jon Krakauer book "Under The Banner Of Heaven"


It was an interesting read, although I had a few issues with it.

I also recommend "Kidnapped from that Land," a book about the 1950s government raid on the huge polygamist community in Short Creek, Utah (now Colorado City and still full of polygs who later went back). It explains a lot about the future relationship between pols and polygs and why busting the communes is relatively rare.

#13

SamPJackson

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Posted Mar 13, 2006 @ 3:39 PM

Years ago, American Heritage, when it was a hardback publication, did a major series on Mormonism, written by nationally-known historians. Of course, it POed the LDS because it was strictly historical, not theological. I don't know how anyone could find it in print now.

Polygamy exists sometimes in nature, where you have an alpha male of a group, who is the only one who mates with the females. Young males resign themselves to inferiority, are killed trying to become the alpha male, and/or leave to wander and try to find a group with a weak alpha male or otherwise create a group. (There seems to be some of this in Colorado City, in the Jeffs group.) This is supposedly good from a biological standpoint because only the alpha male gets to reproduce, not the subordinates (no AFDC in the jungle). I realize that some species are monogomous, and mate for life, but among aggressive species that have low birth-rates (one or two offspring a year) such as lions, tigers, wolves, this polygyny is an obvious pattern. Among humans, the downside is you have inbreeding, and there seems to be an inescapable pattern of young women being forced into involuntary marriages with alpha males.

Among hereditary Mormons (born into the LDS), they seem divided into several groups. One takes the prophets' revelations at face value; right once, wrong now. After all, in the 19th century frontier, female children were not always prized (same as in China and India today), and plural marriages absorbed young females that might have had no better prospects. Another believes the the vision to renounce polygamy was false, in order to get statehood and make peace with the US. This might be why even mainstream Mormon officials in Utah look the other way at polygamy in their midst. Another may believe that polygamy was always wrong, just as Christian denominations have had to repudiate a century of support for slavery. After all, Mormons claim to be Christians, and there is certainly nothing in the New Testament endorsing polygamy.

Some Christian denominations object to Mormons calling themselves the "Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter Day Saints, because there are things in the Book of Mormon that conflict with the Gospels and the Epistles, and "scripture cannot contradict scripture".

#14

sobell

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Posted Mar 13, 2006 @ 3:59 PM

This is in reference to some conversation/questions in the pilot ep thread, so I'm posting some links to back-reading material here.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden's weblog post, "Something New in Short Creek" is an excellent primer on fundamental polygamist sects -- there's plenty of info on the Colorado City, AZ, compound run by Rulon Jeffs. The East Valley Tribune article, "More Youths Flee Polygamy" (Jan 16, 04), includes this tidbit:

The abuse takes place when the boys are little, he said. When they get older, the men view them as competition. Often, they take the boys and dump them on the streets of Salt Lake City and tell them that God doesn’t want them to talk about what happened, Johnson said.


The Prescott Daily Courier ran a 4-part series in 2003, and it included an explanation for why it's so hard to leave:

Nowhere else in the United States is there an incorporated town controlled by a religion whose leader performs polygamous marriages and has several dozen wives himself.
Anyone who is in the religion and then leaves is an "apostate," consigned to eternal hellfire. Any outsider is considered a "heathen."
The church-controlled United Effort Plan owns most of the property. A worthy family can be assigned a building space but they pay for building their own house on it, and then it belongs to the U.E.P. Homes are built piecemeal and expanded as necessary -- pay as you go, no mortgages. Since a home is rarely finished, the tax bill stays small. If a family leaves or is evicted, they own nothing.


And of course, the Salt Lake Tribune has an entire blog on polygamy. They used to have a special section with articles.

Edited by sobell, Mar 13, 2006 @ 4:00 PM.


#15

ghetto hood rat

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Posted Mar 13, 2006 @ 4:10 PM

There is also this series of articles from a Phoenix newspaper-a six month expose of Colorado City. Its a lot to go through, but a lot of it is interesting and very disturbing.

#16

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Posted Mar 13, 2006 @ 4:38 PM

After all, in the 19th century frontier, female children were not always prized (same as in China and India today), and plural marriages absorbed young females that might have had no better prospects.



They weren't? I know that adult women were highly prized. Men outnumbered women in the west, so much so that western men would advertise back east for a wife! A single woman on the frontier didn't stay single for long. So, what makes you think that girl babies were unwanted?

#17

Ms. Poly Theist

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Posted Mar 13, 2006 @ 4:44 PM

They spoke about how liberating it was to "have the security of a good marriage but have the freedom of a single life."


Clea, what exactly did they mean by "the freedom of a single life"? Were they allowed to date? Sleep with other men (as their husband was sleeping with other women)? Could they go on vacation by themselves? Or did they mean that they had the financial benefits of having a husband, and the societal benefits of being able to say they were married, but didn't have to perform 'wifely duties' when the husband was with one of the other wives?

I'm just saying, it sounds pretty great the way they presented it, but if one scratches the surface, I wonder what you'd find.

#18

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Posted Mar 13, 2006 @ 9:26 PM

I'm unfamiliar with the laws against bigamy...is it simply against the law because they don't want people to take advantage of the breaks married couples recieve under the law? Because people like Hugh Hefner live and have children with multiple sexual partners.

#19

Kalbear

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Posted Mar 13, 2006 @ 9:34 PM

At the time it was outlawed it was primarily outlawed because of religious principles; it was not acceptable at the time to the body politic for a man to have multiple wives legally, and would have fought yet another civil war.

Nowadays it's just not something anyone really cares enough to dispute. It could easily be dealt with on a tax basis, and it could be dealt with from a benefits standpoint. As far as US law is concerned bigamy is a breach of contract law.

#20

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Posted Mar 14, 2006 @ 1:27 AM

A&E is right now airing Inside Polygamy. They're starting off talking about the Kingstons, who came to public notice a few years back when a 16 year old who had been forced to become her uncle's 15th wife, escaped after being beaten by her father for resisting the marriage and then sought aid from the police. The girls are forced to marry within the group when they are between the ages of 14 and 16, primarily to relatives, according to Rowenna Erickson of Tapestry of Polygamy -- herself a wife in a Kingston clan plural marriage for 30 years.

Really brutal testimony from some of the women who've gotten out of polygamous marriages and/or were raised in polygamous families about their personal experiences with childhood sexual abuse and about its prevalence within polygamous communities.

Edited by Found A Peanut, Mar 14, 2006 @ 2:14 AM.


#21

Clea

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Posted Mar 14, 2006 @ 1:27 AM

Clea, what exactly did they mean by "the freedom of a single life"? Were they allowed to date? Sleep with other men (as their husband was sleeping with other women)? Could they go on vacation by themselves? Or did they mean that they had the financial benefits of having a husband, and the societal benefits of being able to say they were married, but didn't have to perform 'wifely duties' when the husband was with one of the other wives?


The lady who said that (and that's an exact quote from her, which just stuck with me) basically she enjoyed the fact that she had a great marriage with the love and financial stability that she had always wanted but that with the other wife there she felt like she could leave the "wifely duties" ie children, household responisbilities and her husbands needs behind often and go out with her friends and enjoy herself. I don't think she dated at all or went on vacation (though she might have, I can't remember that) but she just didn't feel at all tied down like some married women do. The lady was currently in a monogomas (sp?) relationship because the other wife had decided to leave and she said the she was way more upset about it than her husband and at that point they were looking for another wife.

The second half of the night the man from the AG's office who is in charge of prosecuting polygamists spoke (yeah, it apparently got ugly between that guy and the wives after class, I didn't stay long so I didn't catch the fireworks) and he said that the only time he really goes after people is when there is obvious abuse, one of the parties is not a consenting adult or there is welfare fraud going on. With the state not recognizing any marriage beyond the first the other wives are seen as single mothers and often will take state assistance as such.

But as I said previously there are so many different sects and families that you really can't bunch them all up in one large generalization. Some are relatively normal and some scare the hell out of me.

They're starting off talking about the Kingstons, who came to public notice a few years back when a 16 year old who had been forced to become her uncle's 15th wife, escaped after being beaten by her father for resisting the marriage and then sought aid from the police.


This happened right outside my home town and is exactly why that is one of the families that frightens me. There was also some rough business with the brother of that girl recently but I can't remember the details except that he was the victim and it involved the dad in some way as the villian once again.

Edited by Clea, Mar 14, 2006 @ 1:30 AM.


#22

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Posted Mar 14, 2006 @ 1:46 AM

The second half of the night the man from the AG's office who is in charge of prosecuting polygamists spoke (yeah, it apparently got ugly between that guy and the wives after class, I didn't stay long so I didn't catch the fireworks) and he said that the only time he really goes after people is when there is obvious abuse, one of the parties is not a consenting adult or there is welfare fraud going on. -- Clea

Had he actually prosecuted anyone for polygamy? Because according to the Inside Polygamy documentary, there haven't been any actual prosecutions for polygamy in the state of Utah in something like 50 years. Even in the Kingston case, the uncle was convicted on a sex charge (got 10 years and was out in 4) and the girl's father was only charged with child abuse. The doc. was made in 1999, though, so maybe there've been prosecutions since?

Lots of interviews with practicing polygamists. I thought the one third wife who said that whenever she had feelings of jealousy, she just reminded herself that she had no right to those feelings was just very sad.

#23

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Posted Mar 14, 2006 @ 7:55 AM

At the time it was outlawed it was primarily outlawed because of religious principles;

Back in college, I took a Bill of Rights class where we studied Mormons, pre-state Utah and polygamy and it was presented to us that the US govt specifically outlawed polygamy as a way to get control over the Mormons (since the law was aimed directly at one particular group, that in itself makes it unconstitutional). It was never about a moral or religious issue.

I thought the one third wife who said that whenever she had feelings of jealousy, she just reminded herself that she had no right to those feelings was just very sad.

I found the pilot much more sad than I expected. But I can't judge the lifestyle based on a few bad moments. Even in monogamous marriages there are bad moments- feeling lonely while he's on a business trip, a husband who disappears during football season, a wife nagging about the garbage, etc. No lifestyle is always perfect. I am not in any way promoting polygamy, but it just trying to point out that all lifestyles have problems. (Again, taking out the fraud and abuse.)

Edited by Maxymama, Mar 14, 2006 @ 8:05 AM.


#24

SamPJackson

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Posted Mar 14, 2006 @ 8:52 AM

I also watched the A&E article. It had major coverage of the child abuse aspect. One thing I found particularly revolting was the father "teaching his daughters how to be good wives".

Even if there were no coertion or pedophilia, the A&E special pointed out that the main source of income of some of these clans is wholesale welfare fraud. This negates my above comment that these men are the alpha males of their tribe. They can't afford their families. Also, a woman can only have so many children, whether she's a monogomous wife or one of 15, so the "fruitful and multiply" doesn't hold as a justification for "plural marriage".

#25

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Posted Mar 14, 2006 @ 9:06 AM

Tom Green case.

Recent, and including bigamy charges. Word was that Green's constant media flaunting irked the state enough to go after him.

#26

SamPJackson

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Posted Mar 14, 2006 @ 9:13 AM

I'm making this two separate posts because of the different subjects, and I didn't want to post a long rant.

In the last days of cults and other dictatorships there seems to be this pattern of fatal orgasm. The Jim Jones and David Koresh cults ended with the leader taking other men's wives and several young girls as additional wives, and re-distributing desirable wives from disfavored to favored subordinates. Time magazine had a well-documented article that included at least one incident where one of Saddam Hussein's sons had his bodyguards raid a wedding reception to kidnap the bride for him to rape. It seems to be an expression of power before the deluge.

#27

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Posted Mar 14, 2006 @ 11:09 AM

Something I've found very interesting about this discussion so far: the words "polgyny" and "polygamy" seem to be interchangeable, and so far, everyone's talked about a model where there's one male spouse and several female ones.

#28

Maxymama

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Posted Mar 14, 2006 @ 11:44 AM

It seems to be an expression of power before the deluge.

Wow, that is interesting. (If I ever enter into an extreme lifestyle, I will be on the look out for this, and run before the shit hits the fan.)

#29

Kalbear

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Posted Mar 14, 2006 @ 11:48 AM

Back in college, I took a Bill of Rights class where we studied Mormons, pre-state Utah and polygamy and it was presented to us that the US govt specifically outlawed polygamy as a way to get control over the Mormons (since the law was aimed directly at one particular group, that in itself makes it unconstitutional). It was never about a moral or religious issue.

Maxymama, from what I've read the reason this was done at all - trying to take control of the Mormons - is because the moral outrage of the hated polygamist viewpoint was so great. Most of the laws were targeted directly at mormons with the express intent of keeping them under control - but the reason why is because the practice was so despised by other US citizens.

sobell, my take on that is because people are using polygamy as a term meaning 'extremist religious people who have multiple underage wives and live in compounds'. Which kind of bugs me since that's not the full meaning of the thing. But I guess it's more applicable to the show.

Edited by Kalbear, Mar 14, 2006 @ 12:15 PM.


#30

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Posted Mar 14, 2006 @ 11:50 AM

Something I've found very interesting about this discussion so far: the words "polgyny" and "polygamy" seem to be interchangeable, and so far, everyone's talked about a model where there's one male spouse and several female ones.


I noticed the same thing. I've been reading the forums a bit and trying to gauge if people's 'ew!' factor with regards to 'polygamy' is based on the stuff we've seen come out of the Mormon extremes (adolescent girls being abused, generally skeevy abuse of power, gender imbalance). I know some people in successful 'group marriages' or polyamory situations, but it's all consenting adults. Are people still 'grossed out' by that? I'm not sure where the 'ew' reaction comes from. As long as everyone's making their own, informed choices, I don't have any different reaction than I do to homosexuals.

Maybe I read too much Heinlein as a kid.

I think Big Love is definitely trying to a walk a line, though, and I'm not sure they're going to succeed.