Friday, August 12, 2011

All That Glitters is Not a Gold Tablet: Warren Jeffs FLDS One Woman's Story

If you don't let some of the more bizarre beliefs distract you, I found this a very insightful essay, not least because of its conclusion.

Fundamentalist Mormon Warren Jeffs’ Conviction and the Coercion of Polygamy: One Woman's Story

Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs was found guilty on August 4 of sexual assault on two girls–a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old who he considered his “spiritual wives.” On August 9 he was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes; the 55-year-old Jeffs will be eligible for parole when he’s 90.

In a courtroom in San Angelo, Texas, in August 2011, Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) leader Warren Jeffs defended himself against the charge of sexual assault on the basis of religious freedom. It was an outrageous defense given that the women and children of his FLDS have no freedom whatsoever, religious or otherwise. Their minds have been coerced, cajoled and controlled since the moment of birth.

I grew up in the little town of Granite, Utah, just down the road from the Jeffs compound in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Warren Jeffs went to my high school. We were LDS, and they were FLDS, the polygamists in town. We saw them as outcasts, the sinners behind the wall. As I listened to his droning voice on YouTube giving instructions to the young girls in his sect about “keeping sweet” and “clean” and how “a thought is as bad as an action,” my body reacted viscerally, as if he was speaking to me. I realized those were the same words I heard as a child in my LDS Sunday school, the same words my mother heard. But then the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS–commonly known as the Mormon Church) came from the same roots. Both trace their teachings back to Joseph Smith. They read the same religious texts and follow the same basic doctrine, except for the doctrine of polygamy–the LDS Church is against polygamy now, at least until the afterlife.

My father’s grandfather was a polygamist. He had three wives. Brigham Young brought him over from England to run the flour mills for the LDS Church. Later, they made him the custodian of the Gardo House, a Victorian mansion in downtown Salt Lake City where men came to meet secretly with their wives after polygamy was rescinded by the LDS Church in 1890. I’ve got to admit that as a child, I felt a sense of pride in my polygamist great grandfather. After all, Brigham Young was a prophet. He was a man who talked to God, and my great grandfather was a man the prophet relied on.

I often wondered if that was why my father became so interested in polygamy: He wanted to carry the legacy of his grandfather. He knew polygamy was against the law. He knew he would be excommunicated from the LDS church if he went down that road. But he was seduced by ideas that had been put into his heart and mind when he was a child–the idea that he could talk personally with God, that he could become a God himself if he lived right and if he found himself at least three wives. When I was about 12, he started to meet with different groups of polygamists, investigating the old doctrine, talking with people who believed the LDS Church never should have rescinded polygamy. His exploration forced my mother to face the devastating specter of living a polygamous life, of being excommunicated from the LDS church and becoming an outcast–along with her 11 children. The problem was, she loved him. And she had 11 children. What was she going to do? Refuse to go along with him? Women didn’t get divorced in those days, not in a small town with a population of 260 primarily LDS and FLDS people, a town in the heart of Mormon Utah. It was unthinkable.

My father’s meetings with the polygamists took place in secret, behind closed doors or away from home, and he and my mother never talked about it when we kids were around. However, I did hear her say, “If there’s polygamy in heaven, I don’t want to go there,” and I’d find her crying in the bathroom with a towel over her head.

Then one day my father said he was going to move us all down to a piece of property in the desert. It was out in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of Hurricane, the same small Utah town where Warren Jeffs was held in Purgatory Jail before his first trial in 2006. My father said he wanted us to live the Law of Consecration, the old Mormon doctrine the FLDS still live by, wherein everything you own is given over to the Church. Maybe he wanted to be a prophet, like Joseph Smith. Maybe if he was a prophet, living and teaching the Law of Consecration, then God would talk to him and tell him what he needed to do to reach exaltation and become the god of his own world in the “next” life. more


Anonymous said...

"... he and my mother never talked about it when we kids were around. However, I did hear her say, "If there’s polygamy in heaven, I don’t want to go there ..."

"The problem was, she loved him."

It's unbelievable that she loved this 'man mountain'.

Anonymous said...

"Children who are brought up in an isolated sect like the FLDS have no choice because they have no access to outside information. They do not know there are other options. They do not know they have choices. Maybe that is the worse kind of child abuse." (Zoe Murdock, author of the book Torn by God)

Allthough Zoe Murdock is just dealing with a bizarre belief, it is a step forward.
As for the overall picture I totally agree with Richard Dawkins "there is no such thing as a christian child, there is no such thing as a ..."