Saturday, October 27, 2007

Polygamy

I like to watch Oprah when the topic interests me, and Friday's show definitely interested me. It was about polygamy and families who are practicing it in the U.S. today. These are predominantly splinters from the mainstream Mormon church who disagreed with the Church when the practice was formally renounced in 1890, so they continued to practice it anyway and formed their own little communities out in the desert to do so.

The polygamous wives on the show were so normal looking. It was weird! They were attractive and articulate, their homes were lovely, their kids were cute (all 25 of 'em!)...in short, they were a lot like modern-day "soccer moms." A husband came on the show with his three wives--two of them were sisters. Creepy! He was a successful businessman who seemed nice enough. It was hard to believe these people were polygamists and were so (seemingly) happy and content with the practice. (Are these women from another planet?) They want it to be legalized so that they don't have to be outcasts anymore and can live in the community like normal people. The case can be made that if gay marriage is allowed, then other forms of marriage are going to need to be permitted as well. I hope legalization of polygamy doesn't ever happen. The most I can see happening is it maybe getting de-criminalized. Would that be a good thing or a bad thing? I'm not sure.

A woman named Carolyn Jessop was also on the show. She grew up in Colorado City, Arizona in a cult-like community of fundamentalists that is much, much worse than the places where the above-mentioned people live. These are the people who totally shun the outside world and dress like they still live in the 1800's. That's where Warren Jeffs is from...he's the so-called prophet of these people who was recently convicted as an accomplice to rape. It is really sad. That place is like Iran. Anyway, Carolyn Jessop escaped with her children in 2003 after years of misery living in polygamy in this awful dictatorial world. She just wrote a book called "Escape" about what her life was like there. I went out and bought it the next day and am eager to read it. Here's the link to find out more about the book if you're interested:
http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?EAN=9780767927567

I have always been fascinated by these polygamists. I can't believe what they're doing! I feel a small level of affinity for them because their forebearers were once members of the Church and so we share some doctrinal beliefs (unrelated to polygamy) and practices (such as Sacrament Meeting and singing the same hymns and songs) as well as a similar heritage. Some of my ancestors on my father's side were pioneers who trekked out West to settle; one of them was even an associate of Joseph Smith's. None of them practiced plural marriage, however. Only a small percentage of the pioneers ever did.

I once read in an opinion piece in Time magazine that members of the Church wish these people would just go away, and that's kind of true, at least for me. They perpetuate the association of Mormons and polygamy and make it seem like it's something that Mormons really do still do, or at least want to do, and that isn't true. They discredit the Church and its message, which it doesn't deserve. I personally do not understand polygamy. I know that great men like Abraham practiced it, and in more recent times, Joseph Smith and of course Brigham Young. But I just can't understand it and I find the idea of it to be abhorrent. I cannot imagine living life like that. The practice is inherently sexist and demeaning to women. It would be less so if women were allowed to have more than one husband in these communities so that then there would at least be equality in that respect. Wouldn't that be interesting? But still, it wouldn't be good. Maybe someday it will indeed all just go away. One spouse at a time should be enough for everyone!

5 comments:

Alyson said...

I TOTALLY agree with you. I don't get it at all!! But unlike you, I hate watching tv shows about it because it makes me so angry. My great, great-grandfather Bigelow was a polygamist and had to flee the states. Also, my Huntsman line (related to the governor of Utah) were also polygamists. I hate to admit it, but it makes me sort of think less of those ancestors, although I know I shouldn't. It is just such a strange thing and I hate that it's the first thing people ask me about when they find out I'm mormon.

Donna said...

Do you get angry watching shows about it because of polygamy itself or because of biased coverage? Most of the recent stories I've seen about these groups have been good about saying that these people are not affiliated with the LDS Church, but I wonder if that distinction is made by the American public in general, especially if they didn't see the part of the show where that was said. I hope the day will soon come when people won't automatically associate Mormons with polygamy! That's interesting about your ancestors. My Bigelow ancestors weren't LDS and stayed in New England as far as I know. I have to find out if we're from the same family line. You never know! Where did he flee too and did he ever come back?

Alyson said...

I get angry because of both things. First of all, I don't like polygamy. Then I feel the coveraged is usually biased or slanted. I recall watching something on CNN where they were talking about polygamy and they said that it's not practiced by the mainstream mormon church, but in the background of the reporter was the Salt Lake temple. So, even though he was saying we don't do it, our temple was being shown on screen. About the Bigelows - my Bigelows lived in Arizona, so I believe my great, great grandfather went off to Mexico for awhile, but I know he died in AZ, so he must have come back. I do think we're still related because all Bigelows are. My Bigelows orginated from New England. My ancestor, Nahum Bigelow, was born in 1785 in Vermont. He left for Illinois and joined the church. Before, Nahum my Bigelows go back to Watertown, Massachusetts.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, but I do enjoy learning about how other people think and try to understand it from their perspective. I kind of think that if that's how someone wants to live and it isn't hurting anyone else, let them. What I'm mostly against are the communes and separating people from the real world. If an adult chooses to live a certain way, when they are old enough and mentally capable of making an educated decision, that's one thing. But if children are programed that that is the only way to live and not allowed to see other societies or if they are placed in arranged marriages at a young age, that should be against the law and be crinimally charged. I don't like the idea of polygamy and would never live it, would vote against it, but if it was legalized and lived openly without hurting or becoming a controlling influence on anyone else, then that's fine with me.

Donna said...

Hi Mom. I like to learn about their perspective too which is one of the reasons why I bought the book and watch shows about it. The more moderate community of polygamists who want to be accepted by and be a part of society aren't so bad. A number of their youth choose not to continue the practice when they get older. They are able to make a more informed choice about it. I agree that those are the people who aren't really hurting anybody (except perhaps for themselves). But I do think that if it gets legalized people are going to practice it who don't have the religious foundational beliefs and it will be abused and it could get ugly. My guess is that it would be practiced irresponsibly and have an overall negative effect in comunities. I really don't think society could handle legalized polygamy.