The Deseret Morning News, a newspaper owned by the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints (LDS), has a couple of interesting articles pertaining to the Yearning For Zion (YFZ) compound in Texas, and the effect that it has had on Mormons.

The first article is about Mormons in the cities of the area of the YFZ compound and some of the hardships that mainstream Mormons face by being lumped together with the Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints (FLDS):

“There are some people here that believe anything bad about Mormons and that’s what they’re going to do,” said Charles L. Webb, who serves as president of the Abilene, Texas, stake.

The LDS Church’s presence in this part of Texas is small. The Abilene stake covers an area 25,000 square miles in size with about 3,000 members. There are only two LDS chapels in San Angelo, but a number of Baptist and other evangelical Christian churches. It’s the polar opposite of Utah, where the LDS Church is the dominant faith.

In repeated statements, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have differentiated between the two faiths and expressed disappointment that some news media outlets have lumped the two together.

I must confess that prior to moving out west I never thought much about Mormons, but to the extent that I thought about them and their history of polygamy it probably would have boiled down to “Mormons stopped practicing polygamy so that Utah could become a state, but some Mormons still practice it.” In a sense that’s true because people that think of themselves as Mormon do practice it, but it wildly understates the fissure between the two groups. It can be likened to the fact that most Christians don’t speak in tongues but some do.

The problem is that the protestant comparison doesn’t apply because protestants are not generally institutional in nature. You have denominations like mine that are hierarchial but not uniform or dogmatic and churches like the Southern Baptists that are dogmatic and somewhat uniform but not very hierarchial. The LDS Church, on the other hand, is more like the Catholic Church in nature, which is hierarchial both in organization and theological substance. The Catholics have their Pope, the Mormons their President. You are either a member in good standing with Salt Lake City or The Vatican or you are not. Protestants can shift this way or that or attend one church or another depending on their personal beliefs, but the Catholic and Mormon churches don’t really operate that way.

So from the outside looking in, we can see the LDS and FLDS as two different kinds of Mormons, perhaps “good Mormons” and “bad Mormons”, from their perspective there are Mormons and non-Mormons, each believing that the other is the non. Unfortunately, this is one of the areas where we don’t have good terminology to differentiate the two without simply adding an adjective in front to point to which group we mean. The adjective suggests that they are two parts of the same thing, which from a structural and theological perspective they just aren’t. Where’s a good term like Davidians when you need one? For purposes of this post, I will refer to the SLC-based Mormons simply as Mormons and the FLDS Mormons as Creeps.

In addition to terminology, one thing that a lot of people (including some that should know better) seem to believe is that Mormons take a nudge-nudge-wink-wink approach to polygamy. That they simply banned it out of political expedience but support it in spirit. I don’t know what goes on in LDS Temples, but far and away the most anti-polygamy people I have ever met were members of the LDS Church. Perhaps they were putting on a show for me or they’re double-secretly instructed to act that way or something, but that’s a pretty big stretch. I never brought it up and the conversations that come to mind are conversations that occurred between Mormons and not speeches directed at me.

I’ve heard them defend their history with it. I’ve heard something about something akin to polygamy exists in the afterlife (Abel or Willard can clear this up if they’d like). But as an institution in the modern-day United States, I haven’t heard a word in support of it even in the context of a theoretical discussion. I know far more non-Mormons that think that it should be legal. We’re all angry about what happened in Eldorado, but well before this dust-up or even the arrest of Warren Jeffs, the disdain for the FLDS when it came up was palpable and primarily on grounds of the polygamy rather than the incest/rape that they could easily hang their hat on if they simply wanted to distance themselves from the Creeps.

I am as skeptical as anyone else about the divine revelation that suddenly overturned their polygamist traditions at precisely the point where it was most politically necessary to do so, but I am convinced that they believe that God has declared it wrong and thus it is about as wrong as wrong can be.

Of course, the real scandal in Eldorado is not the polygamy. We try to be accommodating to religious sects so long as they mostly keep to themselves and don’t present a clear danger to its own members (think Amish). The real issues are the plural marriages involving minors, the scent of incest, and the expulsion of young men into a world that they are unprepared for. I don’t personally think polygamy should be legal, but without these things I would be inclined to let the FLDS be the same way we leave the Amish be.

That brings me to the second article in the Deseret Morning News, which concerns a judge’s inquiry as to whether or not the LDS Church might come in and monitor the FLDS prayer services:

SAN ANGELO, Texas — A judge wants to see if local LDS Church members would be willing to help supervise prayer services at the makeshift shelter where Fundamentalist LDS women and children are being housed.

In response, a local official of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said he was baffled by the judge’s suggestion. {…}

The president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ stake in Abilene, Texas, which oversees San Angelo, was surprised by the judge’s request.

“They think we’re the same ones because we use the Book of Mormon,” Charles L. Webb told the Deseret News. “I’m dumbfounded they would suggest that.”

Webb said he plans to contact LDS Church headquarters in Salt Lake City for guidance before responding to the court’s request. The judge did say in court that if that fails, she would consider other options.

I imagine that the bafflement and whiff of frustration is akin to asking a Vietnamese-American if he can translate for someone that speaks Chinese. “We all look alike to you?”

Be that as it may, I would think that there would be a tremendous opportunity here for the LDS to be a great help for this terrible situation. Though the doctrinal differences between the LDS and FLDS are no doubt legion, the LDS is the closest thing that we have to their faith in the community of reputable religions in the United States. The children of the FLDS are in for some serious theological detoxification that isn’t going to be easy (or likely successful) no matter how we go about it. I can’t help but think that it would be a lot more successful if it started with representatives of a religion whose doctrine that might be at least a little bit familiar.

I may not be theologically in sync with the Mormons, but if teaching these young people that God is good, Jesus saved mankind, and Joseph Smith resurrected the one true church of God will help acclimate these young people to the broader world around them, I think that could be a very, very good thing. Bringing back the lost sheep, as it were.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say because I’m not a Mormon and it’s not my job (or my interest) to protect the church’s interests. And reaching out to the FLDS is quite likely not in the church’s best interest. It could be a PR nightmare that would do their reputation a lot more harm than good. They’re already fighting to differentiate themselves from the Creeps. By inserting themselves into the situation (even at a judge’s request), they’d be sabotaging that differentiation. They’d be further melding into the minds the connection between the two churches that too many people believe anyway.

It sounds crass and cynical to say it, but it’s the church’s leadership that has the responsibility of protecting its image. Whatever church you may belong to, don’t pretend that your church leaders are any different. For a church to be able to reach out and do good work, it must be positively received by the community. Reaching out to lost children of the FLDS would not help in that regard.

So as such, I guess I can understand this passage from the first article:

Webb said he has discouraged members from helping out in the name of the LDS Church to avoid confusion between the two faiths, but said they should offer their services as individuals. The local Baptist congregations have contracts to provide relief services in disaster situations.

San Angelo 2nd Ward Bishop Jeffrey Bushman was contacted by a chaplain helping the FLDS women when they were being housed at Fort Concho. The women had requested copies of the Book of Mormon.

He sent them some copies.

“They didn’t have anything or bring anything with them, I guess, and they wanted some scriptures and they asked for the Book of Mormon,” Bushman said. “I didn’t mind. We don’t ever mind giving out (copies of the) Book of Mormon to people.”


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28 Responses to That Mess In Texas

  1. Willard Lake says:

    When Jeffs was moved to the FBI’s Top 10, my thought was, “This is not going to end well.”

    When he was caught, tried, and thrown in jail, my thought was, “This is not going to end well.”

    When 416 children were taken from their families, and the only lives they’ve ever known… well, you know my thoughts there.

    There have been “prophecies” in this group for a century about how when the government comes down to take away their way of life, the streets will run read with the blood of the federal marshalls. The YFZ Ranch had TWO guards… I don’t care to think about what would happen if the government moved into Colorado City like that and tried to take away the thousands of children living there. I would make Waco look like Christmas.

    Now, a brief treatise on polygamy in the Mormon church. I actually like telling this part to people.

    You see, God is pretty smart. He nows that an organization of people needs to have a critcal mass in order for it to survive, similar to how only when a city hits around 50k does it become impervious to an economic collapse and will still exist and not become a ghost town.

    There is but ONE passage in the Book of Mormon that mentions when polygamy is acceptable. (Wider context, Jacob is reeming the Nephites for taking more than one wife, I mean absolutely going off on them… a good read, really, the whole thing starts in Jacob 1 and goes until chapter 3, but in Jacob 2:30 it states “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.”

    The Book of Doctrine and Covenants have a few passages that expound on this, but this is truly the crux of it all. If he needs a group to have more kids, he’ll instate polygamy. When it has reached a sufficient number, that command goes away.

    A wise man once said (okay, okay, it was me, but still): God at times requires his people to do things that, up until that time, were contrary to his will.

    The “go forth and kill every last man, woman, and child” commandment given to Joshua seems to be opposed to the “Thou shalt not kill” commandment given to Moses 40 years earlier. “Only preach the gospel to the Jews” commandment given by Christ was modified to “teach all nations” after he ascended.

    Concerning plural marriage in the afterlife, Isiah 4:1 may answer that, or not. Whether I am only married to my wife for time and all eternity, or if, with her permission, I am sealed to another who was righteous but her husband was not, I don’t really care, as long as I get to be with my bride forever. That is the key part of my faith… eternal families. It really helps getting through tough times knowing that, well, we really ought to try to make this work. And I don’t think I’ve been happier in my entire life.

    Hope this helps, and yes, the FLDS are Creeps and nut jobs.

  2. Barry says:

    First of all, I find this statement interesting, in not a bit hyperbolic:

    I know far more non-Mormons that think that [polygamy] should be legal.

    Considering all the Mormons you probably knew in your time there, that you know “far more” non-Mormons who thing polygamy should be legal….who are you hanging around with? 🙂

    Secondly, I think it could be a bigger PR disaster for the LDS church not to come in and help, simply by spinning it, as you say, welcoming the strayed sheep back to the flock. If a group called the Nazerene Fundamentalist Baptist Church of the Snake-Handling Extreme Fringe of God’s Metaverse (Unreformed and Proud of It) were found to be breeding cats and dogs together, teaching kids to run bets back and forth to sports bookies and building a 50-foot alien antenna in the back of their compound was busted by the Feds for rattlesnakefighting, I would sure hope one of the local Baptist churches (or any other denomination, but in this case the Baptists since that’s in the name somewhere, and it’s assumed someplace deep in their doctrine there’s at least a tiny commonality) would take the kids and wives under their wing and help guide them back to a place of spiritual comfort and safety. That’s the Christian thing to do, to help those in need. Regardless of the PR hit it might do to your own church, it’s the right thing to do.

    For the LDS to refuse to help, especially with statements like “They think we’re the same ones because we use the Book of Mormon,” Charles L. Webb told the Deseret News. “I’m dumbfounded they would suggest that.” continue to further the perception that the Mormon church is far afield from the mainstream American Christian community (Catholics and Protestants).

  3. Willard Lake says:

    Got an e-mail about this… pretty good stuff:

    http://thegabblog.blogspot.com/2008/04/just-for-record.html

  4. Peter says:

    The LDS Church, on the other hand, is more like the Catholic Church in nature, which is hierarchial both in organization and theological substance. The Catholics have their Pope, the Mormons their President. You are either a member in good standing with Salt Lake City or The Vatican or you are not. Protestants can shift this way or that or attend one church or another depending on their personal beliefs, but the Catholic and Mormon churches don’t really operate that way.

    Catholic doctrine is strict in theory but not always in practice. It’s my understanding that the LDS Church is strict in both respects.

  5. Webmaster says:

    Stepping aside from the standing discussion, I’d like to address this piece as well: “I know far more non-Mormons that think that [polygamy] should be legal.”.

    First, there’s “Polygamy”, which can be separated into “polyandry” (multiple husbands), “polygyny” (multiple wives), and some even wierder or more complicated arrangements (“group marriage”, “polyamory”, etc).

    My first thought is that at almost all times in history, polygamy has been practiced in an inequal manner; most often it’s abusive forms of polygyny, tending to also involve forced marriages. Such societies tend to regard women as far less than equals, down to the level of property or worse.

    If a modern society is to decide it’s accepting of polygyny, then it would seem fair that polyandry and group marriage ought to be (at least legally speaking) viable as well.

    Of course, this comes with a price, which brings in the shock-tactic of suggesting the “natural” evolution of same-sex marriage (e.g. if you’re allowing same-sex partners, what about those who want to have an “open and faithful” arrangement between 3 or more people).

    Willard’s got a fair point about societies needing population, though the plural-marriage idea only makes sense if your limiting factor is an imbalanced ratio of women to men; decently plausible in some societies (“more-prehistoric-than-today” arab societies or other tribal situations where men regularly got killed off in decent numbers due to wars). As we’ve seen with the FLDS Creeps today, absent such a “release valve”, it necessitates the horrid and abusive treatment and eventual expulsion of young men in order for the “leaders” of the cult to ensure a steady supply of young women for the expansion of their own harems.

  6. trumwill says:

    Willard,

    Thanks for the primer on polygamy. I actually remember your comments on Jeffs. I think that I agreed. There’s really no easy answers on how to deal with cults. That reminds me that I need to do a post on the difference between religions and cults.

  7. trumwill says:

    Considering all the Mormons you probably knew in your time there, that you know “far more” non-Mormons who thing polygamy should be legal….who are you hanging around with?

    As far as I could tell, the question has been settled. There doesn’t seem to be the doctrinal debates that exist on all manner of issues within protestantism or even Catholicism. There are some issues that appear to be up for debate between Mormons, but polygamy doesn’t appear to be one of them.

    Regarding the non-mormons I know that favor polygamy, that probably says a lot about the people I have out with :). I actually have a coworker right now that believes that polygamy should be legal. It tends to be irreligious sorts, actually. Some guys naturally think that they’re going to be the ones with 3 wives rather than the two without any. More common, though, is the freedom argument. Basically the same rationale used by some to support gay marriage. I’ve heard a little less of that in recent years, though, I think because these people have moved on to the notion that the government should get out of the marriage business altogether.

    A couple qualifiers: First, I don’t know many people that do favor polygamy either non-Mormon or Mormon. It’s a pretty limited sample set. Second, though some people do make the same argument for polygamy and gay marriage does not mean that people who favor one secretly favor the other. I favor gay marriage but do not favor polygamy. I see crucial differences between the two that some on both the right and left of me on the issue do not.

    On the question of whether the LDS has a moral obligation to help, I think that you have a good point. I am generally wary of talking about what sacrifices other people should make, though. It’s easier for me to think that the LDS should take a PR hit when I don’t have a vested interest in the popularity of the LDS. It seems to me that because people know so little about them, Mormons have to be more conscious about their image than do a lot of other churches. That doesn’t stop it from sounding like a crummy reason not to rush to the help of those in need, though, when you are in a special position to actually do some good.

    That’s assuming that they are in a position to do good. One possibility is that the FLDS youngsters have been raised to have such vitriol towards the LDS that they are the last people that should be trying to help. I don’t think that this is the case, but I don’t speak from a position of great knowledge.

  8. trumwill says:

    Web,

    I don’t think that there are very many people that support polygyny that don’t also support polyandry, at least legally. Even the FLDS would probably support the legalization of both so that they can continue to hoard their women. I think that we mostly gravitate towards polygyny in discussions simply because that would be the less uncommon arrangement. I suspect that if polygamy were to become legal, the “weirder and more complicated arrangements” would probably become a reality much more quickly. I have my reasons for supporting gay marriage and not supporting polygamy, but I don’t see any rational distinctions between polygamy and group marriages.

  9. Barry says:

    It appears as if the children have been raised so isolated and sheltered from mainstream American society that to introduce them to it within foster families, however necessary and noble, is going to be a huge shock to their cultural systems. Imagine someone from 19th Century Iowa suddenly transported to 21st Century Texas, and what a shock it must be discover what’s out there.

    And to be almost completely cut off from your growing religious faith, however warped it might have been in practice, must be jarring. For the LDS to step in and provide a somewhat similar spiritual guidance would at least be that much less shocking of a transition to them. If they have been taught to hate the LDS, then that must be taken into account but I would imagine they could work around it.

    I’m iffy on gay marriage, but polygamy seems to be on another plane as far as marriage options go – it seems to dissolve the essence of what marriage actually is in favor of unchecked procreation, control and *gasp* multiple partners that as a whole will never give out. If people are very much in favor of both or against both, they can’t be for the same reasons as they are very different situations.

  10. trumwill says:

    I agree on all counts, Barry.

  11. Abel says:

    I think Willard summed up things nicely.

    Also, there’s no faster way to get excommunicated from the LDS church than to start associating with a polygmous group.

  12. Willard Lake says:

    Well… embezzeling church funds to set up a prostitution ring may get you ex-ed slightly faster.

  13. trumwill says:

    What if you set up a prostitution ring with your own rightfully-earned capital?

  14. Abel says:

    Willard,

    Am I missing something?

    Abel

  15. Webmaster says:

    Interestingly, polygamy may not be as uncommon in the LDS; there seems to be a strong underground of it, as shown by pro-polygamy rallies in 2006. Links follow:

    http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2006/aug/06081004.html

    http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,645191802,00.html

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/08/20/ap/national/mainD8JK2O600.shtml

    This same group is now popping up holding rallies again in response to the Texas raid:

    http://www.sltrib.com/polygamy/ci_8924241

  16. Willard Lake says:

    Abel, no, I am just exhibiting my standard degree of randomness that our host here misses so much.

    As for trumwill’s question: Such an endeavor would probably get you removed from membership in good standing in the average timeframe.

  17. trumwill says:

    Web, the Apostolic United Brethren are likely one of the groups Abel is referring to where membership will get you kicked out of the church. They protest, hide, and form an alternate church hierarchy precisely because their views are rejected by the church and by its rank and file.

    This actually brings to light a question I’ve been asking myself lately. If polygamy were legal, would we have more relatively benign groups like the AUB and fewer LDS creeps? Being on the outside of the law already and having to close ranks as the FLDS does, it probably removes disincentive to exhibit the more substantially illegal behavior that the Creeps do engage in.

  18. Abel says:

    Three things to note about the pro-polygamy rally. 1)The groups mentioned are break-offs of the LDS chruch. 2) It’s only the children of polygamous couples that are doing it. The adults won’t do it because, though seldom enforced, they do risk arrest for openly advocating their lifestlye.

  19. trumwill says:

    The adults won’t do it because, though seldom enforced, they do risk arrest for openly advocating their lifestlye.

    How is that constitutional?

  20. Barry says:

    Maybe the adults are afraid if they call attention to themselves, the police will investigate and find out they’re actually polygamous instead of just advocating it.

    But it seems to me that more serious than the polygamy practice of this place in Texas is the fact they are exploiting young girls to do it – ok, marry as many wives as you want to buddy…just make sure they’re all able to emotionally and psychologically consent to it. What they were doing was statutory rape and other related acts which to me is much worse than just polygamy.

  21. Willard Lake says:

    And I think that is the main issue, too. Yes, when they moved into the YFZ Ranch, the marrying age for Texans was as low as 14, but it no longer is, and since what they are doing is not legally wedding, anyway, they are just having sex (in the eyes of the state), so these old men are having sex with underage girls, and well, that’s just wrong. But… why they didn’t go after the men, I’m not entirely sure. They were the one’s doing the harm, if you remove them, then the children are no longer in danger. But, hey, that’s just me.

  22. trumwill says:

    I agree that the main issue for the YFZ is the lack of age and autonomy of the young women. I go back and forth as to whether or not the raid on YFZ was a good idea, but I’d definitely be against going in to an AUB compound, if such things exist.

    Willard, I think that there are a couple issues at play. First, if you take all the men away I can only imagine that the girls would be shipped back to Colorado City to the same situation. The second problem is that the women were complicit. If a step-father molests his step-daughter and the mother knows about it and does nothing about it, the CPS will likely step in and quite possibly take the kid from the mother’s care even if the molester is no longer a threat. If we’re convinced that the mothers would likely go back to Colorado City or continue the traditions in Eldorado or whatever, they represent a danger to the welfare of the child and thus the CPS-types can intervene.

    From a legal standpoint, I think that the barrels are primarily aimed at the men. They’re the ones that are going to be charged, convicted, and sent to prison. What’s happening with the mothers and children is more a child welfare rather than criminal law matter.

  23. Abel says:

    Opps. My bad. They wouldn’t get arrested for advocating polygamy. But, as Barry stated, they would become a known polygamist (if they are one) — and that could cause problems with neighbors (not all live in compounds many live in residential neighborhoods and do so secretly), the law, social services, and even employers and co-workers.

    The polygamy laws are seldom enforced because there are so many of them here. However, I wouldn’t put it past an over-zealous prosecutor to take down a smaller group or even just a family. Legally they could do it.

  24. Willard Lake says:

    The attornies general of Utah and Arizona said that they would not use resources to prosecute polygamists, but they will prosecute sex offenders. This looks like what is happening in Texas. If the FLDS didn’t lower their marrying age from 22 to 20 to 18 to 16 to 14 over the past couple decades, they would be living fine and happy in their nice little ranchy compounds and noone would be bothering them. Blame the horny old men who looked at their neighbors and said, “Hmm… I’m thinking ‘God’ wants me to tap that.” and an hour later, he does.

  25. Willard Lake says:

    The 3-member panel of judges smacked down the CPS and Texas government for taking the kids. That’s just awesome. I wonder what kind of indoctrination they are recieving at the foster homes they are in scattered all over Texas. I really hope this ends well. Getting kids ripped away from their parents is about the worst thing, yes, ABOUT the worst thing, that can have happen to them.

  26. Willard Lake says:

    I think I, like many Mormon residents in Deseret, am fasicnated with this case because we know the ramifications better than most of what this sect is capable of doing, and what has been “foretold” for generations about their eventual fight with the government. I really, really, hope those children get returned, because if they don’t, there will be blood. I can’t say that I truly understand what these people are going through, but imagine if the one entity that you have been taught to fear and hate for decades takes away from you the only things you’ve been taught to love and cherish. What would you do in that situation?

  27. Willard Lake says:

    Seriously?!?! The argument now is they can’t let the children go because the families may flee to Utah or Arizona. So, holding the children hostage to get what you want from the parents is better than letting them goo back home and working out what needs to happen from there. I think everything that the FLDS members have suspected of the government is being shown to be true in this case. Will, do you have any more thoughts on this?

  28. trumwill says:

    I’ve been reading your comments and pondering the issue.

    For now, I’ll say that keeping everybody from fleeing back to Arizona/Utah is not a wholly illegitimate rationale. In fact, I mentioned that as being a concern in one of my previous comments. That doesn’t mean that the families can’t be reunited and also prohibiting from leaving the jurisdiction until everything is sorted out, though. It wouldn’t seem to me that the costs of watching over them would be greater than the costs of foster care. I’m not sure that either side would find that solution acceptable, though.

    As far as the rest of it goes and what I think should happen… I find the whole subject to be much more complicated than you do. More complicated than I can really share in comment sections. I may write another post rehashing the subject.

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