Skip

The Polygamists - National Geographic Explores the FLDS
January 26, 2010 7:06 AM   Subscribe

"A highly respected member of the FLDS, Joe is also the patriarch of a family of 46 children and—at last count—239 grandchildren." The Polygamists (photos)- National Geographic wanders through a section of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), the mormon splinter group that proudly continues this marital tradition.
posted by shivohum (80 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
If a church has a big wall around it I think it becomes a "compound."
posted by Tube at 7:09 AM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


mormon splinter group that proudly continues this marital tradition.

Wait--so they don't like other people voting on how they can marry?
posted by DU at 7:11 AM on January 26, 2010 [54 favorites]


I can't seem to focus on anything but the hairstyles of the wives....
posted by squasha at 7:12 AM on January 26, 2010


it totally took me a moment to get that this was a modern piece and not a "from the archives thing". i reread the post looking for where i missed the line about it being from 1839 and a newly available digital archive or something.

i have no problem with different beliefs, but like DU said, when those with different beliefs want to legislate that mine are wrong, i have a problem.
posted by sio42 at 7:18 AM on January 26, 2010


One thing I really do like about these pictures though is the complete lack of advertising in the background or on the clothes. I could get behind that in a big way.
posted by DU at 7:20 AM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


What I love about FLDS is how brazen it is. They hate the government, but they sure love cashing welfare checks. Children are all-important, but molesting them is a core tenet of the religion. Unreal.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:22 AM on January 26, 2010 [17 favorites]


Wait--so they don't like other people voting on how they can marry?


FLDS ≠ LDS.

Fictionally speaking though, the patriarch of the group on Big Love told a reporter that he supported same-sex marriage for just that reason, not that such an announcement would have any political punch in a real world setting.
posted by padraigin at 7:22 AM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


padraigin: "FLDS ≠ LDS"

As far as their attitude towards homosexuality is concerned, I suspect it's =.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:24 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait--so they don't like other people voting on how they can marry?

I don't think the FLDS is driving any petitions or movements against gay marriage (not that they wouldn't, but they don't due to the attention it would attract). The recent anti-prop 8 thing in CA was driven by forces within the mainstream LDS organization.

Anyway, Utah is such a beautiful place that it's easy to see how they've bought into the Promised Land mentality. That's problematic because they then think that a Mormon theocracy is natural and right.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:26 AM on January 26, 2010


Only men deemed "godly" are permitted to enter into plural marriage by the church leader; those later judged unworthy can have their wives and children reassigned to other men.

Hmm.
posted by jquinby at 7:27 AM on January 26, 2010


FLDS ≠ LDS

Thanks for pointing that out, padraigan. I had been wondering myself if this particular sect even votes.
posted by orange swan at 7:28 AM on January 26, 2010


If a church has a big wall around it I think it becomes a "compound."

You mean like this one?
posted by Pollomacho at 7:32 AM on January 26, 2010


Only men deemed "godly" are permitted to enter into plural marriage by the church leader; those later judged unworthy can have their wives and children reassigned to other men.

At this very moment, Margaret Atwood has, with due concern regarding her recently-manifested ability to alter the very fabric of reality, resigned herself to writing novels about happy utopias with puppies and marshmallows.
posted by griphus at 7:35 AM on January 26, 2010 [21 favorites]


TAL: Meet The New Boss

"An accountant, Bruce Wisan, is hired by the state of Utah to clean up a very complicated mess in a complicated place: Short Creek, home to hundreds of members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—or FLDS, which practices polygamy. The community had been run by the notorious Warren Jeffs, now in prison for rape. Jeffs had been in charge of the FLDS church, and also of the giant trust which church members paid into all their lives. But when Jeffs became a fugitive, he began to mismanage the $112 million trust, and so the Utah attorney general stepped in, giving Wisan control. Wisan had plans: He was going to modernize the town utilities, improve the roads, and most important, give people titles to their homes, which under Jeffs were owned and controlled by the church trust. But Wisan quickly ran into an enormous problem: The majority of people in Short Creek would have nothing to do with him or his ideas. Claire Hoffman reports. "
posted by The Whelk at 7:35 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anyway, Utah is such a beautiful place that it's easy to see how they've bought into the Promised Land mentality.


I just stopped in to say what he said. Beautiful country.
posted by notsnot at 7:35 AM on January 26, 2010


This piece is part of Stephanie's ongoing work on child marriage. This is Sinclair's second story on the FLDS - the first ran as a photo essay in the NYT Sunday Mag.

The stories I could tell about how insanely hard it was for her to get access to the FLDS and what they put her through to maintain it. So few people realize that making the images is the easy part - getting access is where the hard work happens.
posted by photoslob at 7:35 AM on January 26, 2010


Thanks for pointing that out, padraigan. I had been wondering myself if this particular sect even votes.

They may or may not, but what they don't do is have any serious clout, and what else they don't do is mobilize to throw a ton of money and manpower at such issues, regardless of what they think about it. It's just disingenuous to paint these sects as some kind of ironic player in the battle for marriage equality.
posted by padraigin at 7:41 AM on January 26, 2010


When I become dictator I'm going to have those people sterilized.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:42 AM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


My feelings on the FLDS have always been that, while it skeeves me out intensely, it's basically just a cultural difference and there's not really any good reason to mess with them. If a man doesn't profess to being Mormon and sleeps with and impregnates lots of (normally dressed) women at the same time, he's typically considered a sleazeball, but criminal charges aren't a factor. These women aren't doing something I agree with, but they're generally willing participants. The men are obligated to support their wives and children. Random non-FLDS sleazeball is not. There's certainly a lot of potential for abuse, but that seems as much a function of their isolation as their polygamy.

But then I read this:
Only men deemed "godly" are permitted to enter into plural marriage by the church leader; those later judged unworthy can have their wives and children reassigned to other men.

What the hell? Not "their wives can divorce them." Not "their marriages are voided." Their wives are "reassigned!" How is that not just slavery?
posted by Dojie at 7:44 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


it's basically just a cultural difference and there's not really any good reason to mess with them

I think the rape of underage girls is a pretty good reason to mess with them.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:56 AM on January 26, 2010 [23 favorites]


The article in the first link is well-written and illuminating. It's fascinating to see the contrast between the strong, confident women and their "bashful" husbands the author describes and the public's perception of young women who were coerced into wedding much older men and boys being cast out if they disobeyed. This article does a good job balancing coverage of the hard-working people within the FLDS who sincerely believe in what they are doing with the shadow of criminal offenses that hangs over some of the church leaders.

There's no doubt in my mind that Jeffs is responsible for the worst abuses. The entitled position he held as the Prophet allowed him to manipulate the populace (before Jeffs, some men had two or three wives, but within his time as Prophet plural marriages went into double digits, more boys were "encouraged out" and married women were displaced to other men simply for disagreeing with him, rather than because their husbands had died).

It's really a sect full of contradictions, and I'm sure I'm not the only one curious about these people who drive SUVs and use cellphones and yet shun television. I would like to know more about how they support themselves financially--online businesses selling soap, etc. were mentioned, but are many in fact on welfare as OP suggests?
posted by misha at 7:57 AM on January 26, 2010


and I'm sure I'm not the only one curious about these people who drive SUVs and use cellphones and yet shun television.

I don't think that they are anti-technology as such, since SUV and cellphone usage have a tangible benefit. They're anti-TV because they don't want anything foreign to intrude into their carefully constructed houses of cards.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:00 AM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


What the hell? Not "their wives can divorce them." Not "their marriages are voided." Their wives are "reassigned!" How is that not just slavery?

You have to imagine that the entire post-Hellenistic edifice of Western life is removed. The family is not a biological unit so much as a biological means toward a social, cultural, and religious unit. Think ancient Greek household.

Notice the picture of the father leading worship. He has a dual role here as both the head of the family and as the pastor of the hyper-local church. Much of FLDS theology is based on the notion of spreading the Gospel not by converting the outsider, but by out-propagating them. Every man is like Abraham--the father of a nation. In this way, plural wives is actually a parallel issue to the exclusively male Catholic priesthood. In these theologies, a hierarchical order exist to access God. Males are the lynchpin between God and humanity in all of these theologies.

What is curious is how the numbers of males and females are dealt with. In Bronze Age cultures, men were often killed in battle and women often died in childbirth. Polygamy made sense to a certain extent because there weren't enough men for all the eligible women and later there weren't enough mothers for all the hungry babies. Polygamy can be seen to emerge partially as a solution to this problem, though an intrinsic capacity to oppress women and maintain male hegemony cannot be overlooked.

Yet in contemporary society, where modern western medicine has made death during childbirth and mass warfare less common, I can't help but wonder what is becoming of the "extra" males. If birth rates are close to 49% male and 51% female, and if plural females are being married to each male, then you quickly end up with eligible males but no females. Perhaps this is why competition among males to please the hierarchy results in reassignment of marriages, and perhaps also why increasingly young females are forced into marriages.
posted by jefficator at 8:09 AM on January 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


It's well worth a cultural side-trip if you're ever visiting Zion NP. I was followed out by two trucks coordinating via walkie talkie. Very bizarre and a little unsettling.
posted by batboy at 8:12 AM on January 26, 2010


They're anti-TV because they don't want anything foreign to intrude into their carefully constructed houses of cards.

I always attempt to understand ideas from the perspective of the people who will suffer for them.

I imagine they avoid television because they consider it a corrupting influence. We didn't have television when I was a child because my father thought it was a means for the devil to get inside the home.

I often hear the charge "These men just want access to more sex" brandied about. Obviously I can never analyze the heart of another person and know their intentions fully. Even if I could I can't be sure that those intentions are apparent even to the individual. But I wonder whether any thoughtful members of this group agonize over the question of whether the Almighty Creator of the Universe has actually commanded them to build families in this way.

What does an individual do when his or her personal conscious conflicts with a deep conviction about their duty on earth?
posted by jefficator at 8:13 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dang, that swing looks FUN.
posted by contessa at 8:19 AM on January 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


For the genetics nerds and morbidly curious, here's more about fumarase deficiency (which the NG article mentions in passing)
posted by oinopaponton at 8:20 AM on January 26, 2010


That's a great article. I'm so torn about FLDS. Part of me wants to admire them. Living their own sexually deviant life, quietly and (somewhat) independently, speaking strong and true to the media. They handled the YFZ raid and the taking of their children remarkably beautifully. The video of the mothers speaking grief was really powerful.

On the other side, it's clear it's a personality cult run by a batshitinsane guy wielding ugly power over his flock. And then there's the mistreatment of children and families. In a small, insular community it only takes one bad leader to exploit the culture and destroy everything.

I liked this article and the photos because it captures the ambiguity of it all.
posted by Nelson at 8:20 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whoops. Found my answer: The Lost Boys.
posted by jefficator at 8:21 AM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


And jefficator, I think you mean ancient Hebrew, not ancient Greek households (polygamy, like incest, was pretty much restricted to Mount Olympus for classical Hellenes).
posted by oinopaponton at 8:24 AM on January 26, 2010


it's basically just a cultural difference and there's not really any good reason to mess with them

I think the rape of underage girls is a pretty good reason to mess with them.


That pretty clearly falls under the category of "abuses." I'm not saying they should be immune from prosecution for actual crimes. I'm saying they shouldn't be treated automatically as a dangerous cult which Must Be Stopped because of their (extralegal, not illegal) polygamy and weird clothes.
posted by Dojie at 8:24 AM on January 26, 2010


ionopaponton, your correction is mostly accurate. I'm relying on later reflections upon the concept of oikonomia, though. In hindsight I suppose just sticking with the ancient Hebrew notions would suffice.
posted by jefficator at 8:28 AM on January 26, 2010


I can't help but wonder what is becoming of the "extra" males

They are forcibly removed/kicked off the "compound"
posted by jckll at 8:30 AM on January 26, 2010


I suppose just sticking with the ancient Hebrew notions would suffice.

Yes, the assessment that every man is like Abraham with his own flock of believers to tend to is correct. The promise of each man getting his own planet in the afterlife is an offshoot of this notion.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:31 AM on January 26, 2010


Let's also keep in mind that this is closely related to the Banished: The Lost Boys post from earlier this month. If a man has 10, 20, (I counted 16 in the funeral picture - picture #6) or more wives, there are not enough women available to provide wives for all the boys. In the case of Jeffs himself, it is speculated that he has 80 wives as mentioned in the first link of the thread.

Of additional interest may the the Times articles linked from the photo essay that photoslob linked above.
posted by onhazier at 8:36 AM on January 26, 2010


They hate the government, but they sure love cashing welfare checks.

That's not a contradiction, it's a strategy. Sort of like "they will sell us the ropes with which to hang them", except that "bleeding the beast" seems to be more successful.

The men are obligated to support their wives and children.

Not their wives (those welfare checks come in part because, legally, the wives are "single mothers"), and not their children.
posted by roystgnr at 8:55 AM on January 26, 2010


I'm saying they shouldn't be treated automatically as a dangerous cult which Must Be Stopped because of their (extralegal, not illegal) polygamy and weird clothes.

Are you aware of any FLDS groups that are not raping children? That do not have a surplus of unwanted boys? That aren't breaking laws?

Right. That's why we automatically treat them as dangerous cults. They are dangerous cults.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:56 AM on January 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm perfectly happy with people practicing polygamy. Consensual polygamy between two adults. There is a reason that they took away the 16 and 17 year old girls who had babies -- by statutory rape law, they were not old enough to consent to having sex, let alone getting married.

Those of us who believe in marriage freedom should denounce the FLDS, because they way that they are going about practicing polygamy is giving a bad name to multiple marriage.

Of course, why anyone would want to marry a 14-year old girl is completely beyond me. Women over 18 are so much more attractive -- and mature. I don't think I was ever less attractive or more annoying than when I was 14.
posted by jb at 8:57 AM on January 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


I once read an interview with a former polygamy-practicing wife. She said her children seemed to know from a very young age that their situation was a bad one and they were just waiting for her to get it. She also said she didn't want the government to outlaw polygamy, but to focus on cleaning up the abuses.

I quite agree. Consenting adults should be able to have any kind of marriage/family structure they want, but the authorities should step in whenever they have reason to believe there is any kind of coercion or abuse or welfare scamming involved.
posted by orange swan at 9:00 AM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm perfectly happy with people practicing polygamy. Consensual polygamy between two adults.

This is right on. The problem with the FLDS is not that they simply have a different cultural definition of marriage, it's that in their community they believe the rule of law doesn't apply. Under 18 marriages? Men stripped of their wives/families for not being pious? Even if you setup your own little community, you still have to live under the same state and federal laws as everyone else. I can't setup my own compound and then decide to institute slavery, as that is an illegal practice. Yet, the FLDS seems to get away with existing in some legal gray zone. That's where the condemnation needs to targeted.
posted by boubelium at 9:07 AM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Whatever the original religious/legal motivations for isolating themselves and their families in order to practice their polygamy, the actual fallout is undeniably abusive, because once you make escape or appeal to outside authorities impossible (or nearly impossibe) you have created a massive power imbalance that inevitably results in abuse.

And I personally have no problem in calling any belief that labels half the human population as subordinate evil. Certainly not all women in these groups are beaten down and not all husbands are domineering, but the dogma of women as "less than" is, in fact, evil, in the same way a dogma of other races as "less than" is. It is completely false in its assumptions, massively destructive in its effects (which extend across generations), and non-compatible with any kind of a just society. Slavery is its most extreme end, and these women are if not actual slaves, much further along the continuum than they would be in the outside world. If you do not own your own person, what can you be said to own?

If a group of consenting black and white people wanted to set up a pseudo-plantation system in the desert, would that be ok? If so, what about the children raised in that system, taught that it was right, and prevented from ever leaving it? Is that culturally ok as well?
posted by emjaybee at 9:12 AM on January 26, 2010 [14 favorites]


If anyone is interested in reading more about the FLDS in its modern incarnation as well as its complicated and bloody history, I definitely recommend Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. It is a marvelous, engaging read.
posted by shiu mai baby at 9:25 AM on January 26, 2010


The Gods did it first
posted by mr.marx at 9:26 AM on January 26, 2010


"Consent" gets a lot more complicated when you're raised in an isolated town, are home-schooled, and never talk to anyone outside your religious community. I have no doubt the FLDS women speaking out in support of plural marriage are truly honest, direct, and consenting. And were consenting from the day they married their husbands. The legal marriage age in Utah is 16 with parental consent. So what's a 16 year old girl growing up in Hilldale going to do when her pastor and her parents sit her down and explain she's going to be marrying Rulon Jr, whom she grew up knowing and respects? It's coercive, but not in some simple "forced" way. It's the only life she knows.

That isolation, in my opinion, is the problem. The state has an interest in the education of children. I think homeschooling should be banned, or at least augmented with a requirement of 2+ days a week of socialization with other kids. I also think kids should be required to have access to age-appropriate libraries, television, and Internet so that parents can't brainwash their kids. But my view is a minority one and not supported by any laws.
posted by Nelson at 9:32 AM on January 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


Polygamy is an utterly stupid idea. Putting up with one woman's drama is more than enough for me. If I'm sleeping with more than one woman, I'm going to have at least one other dude to bear the emotional load.
posted by Eideteker at 9:36 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I could go for multiple husbands. At least one of them would be sure to be in the mood whenever I was good to go so I could be sure to get all the action I wanted for the first time in my life and...

Wait a minute, sorry, we were talking about something else, weren't we?
posted by orange swan at 9:40 AM on January 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


From the article: "What seems to help overcome it is an awareness that a woman's primary role in the FLDS is to bear and raise as many children as possible, to build up the 'celestial family' that will remain together for eternity. It is not uncommon to meet FLDS women who have given birth to 10, 12, 16 children. (Joyce Broadbent is the mother of 11, and Dorothy Emma Jessop of 13.) As a result, it's easy to see why this corner of the American West is experiencing a population explosion."

It's largely this aspect of fundamentalist Mormonism that I find really horrifying, though the scariness is much more quiet than the (admitted horror) that exists in the forced marriages of teenage girls. I've been working through watching Big Love, and the way this is developed as a theme--subtly, over three seasons--really reveals what a stifling life women under this sort of system truly lead, even among the more modern-seeming characters. They're baby making machines. That women are still viewed this way in modern America horrifies me.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:58 AM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


My feelings on the FLDS have always been that, while it skeeves me out intensely, it's basically just a cultural difference and there's not really any good reason to mess with them. If a man doesn't profess to being Mormon and sleeps with and impregnates lots of (normally dressed) women at the same time, he's typically considered a sleazeball, but criminal charges aren't a factor. These women aren't doing something I agree with, but they're generally willing participants. The men are obligated to support their wives and children. Random non-FLDS sleazeball is not. There's certainly a lot of potential for abuse, but that seems as much a function of their isolation as their polygamy.

there's a lot of weirdness in this paragraph, and I'm not sure if you're trying to say that you no longer believe this. on the chance that you still think this is largely true:

1. if a man impregnates a lot of women, there are still recourses for those women to seek child support. now, in polygamist mormon sects the men support their children with clothes, shelter and food, etc... but the problem is that law enforcement in compounds such as these is staffed by the men of the compound, who obey the laws of the sect and not the laws of the state. within that, there is plenty of room for these men to oppress, abuse and abandon their wives and children. it's really REALLY not the same as a dude outside mormonism going around impregnating a lot of women.

2. the idea of the women being generally willing participants is difficult, because they're raised in a society that raises them to believe they're property. they're willing in the way a dog is willing to be kept by a human being, in that they don't actually have much choice. except dogs are usually treated better.

3. I don't think it's a good idea to assume too much about how obligated these men are to support anyone but themselves. I don't think one of them would be allowed to go around fucking whoever he wants, and abandoning the kids. But there's a lot of leeway there, and for one man to choose to punish one of his wives or children with abandonment isn't unheard of, from what I've read. That he continues to support the rest of his family doesn't make abandoning even ONE of them ok.

Their wives are "reassigned!" How is that not just slavery?

and yes, that is absolutely part of it. again, I'm not sure if you're now rethinking your whole feeling about their practices or what, but give it some more thought. as OC has mentioned, child rape is common in isolated compounds like this, and not in a hidden kind of way where if one of them were caught he'd be punished. underage girls are married to older men who force themselves on the girls because she's his wife and they believe he has a right to marital comforts, etc... it accepted and embraced by the culture in a way that is straight up not ok.
posted by shmegegge at 10:07 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Polygamy is an utterly stupid idea. Putting up with one woman's drama is more than enough for me. If I'm sleeping with more than one woman, I'm going to have at least one other dude to bear the emotional load.

ha ha! it's funny because it's sexist AND it casually dismisses the actual oppression of real people! ha ha!
posted by shmegegge at 10:08 AM on January 26, 2010 [16 favorites]


Consensual polygamy between two adults.

I'm pretty sure it would involve at least three...
posted by amro at 10:43 AM on January 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm suddenly reminded of the sad, crazy story of Pitcairn Island, whose 47 inhabitants had apparently developed a culture of raping local girls around the time they turn 12. Here's an April 2009 update.
posted by Nelson at 10:45 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Stupid Question: where do they get money? I used to live in Southern Utah (and yes, god what a breathtaking country), and it is no man's land. I know they don't have like 'normal' jobs out there or access really to any outside money. I realize they do their own construction labor, sew their own clothes and the like - but clearly many of their resources are not made from scratch, so to speak. Their houses are beautiful and modern. And if they're getting no financial assistance from the greater LDS institution? What am I missing here?
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:52 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


oh jesus Nelson - I wish you handn't reminded me of Pitcairn. So said.

Radio program of interest: woman offers a 'feminist' view of why she loves being in a polygamous marriage on This America Life. (story is Act Four)
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:54 AM on January 26, 2010


*sad
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:55 AM on January 26, 2010


Their houses are beautiful and modern. And if they're getting no financial assistance from the greater LDS institution? What am I missing here?

corporate investment.
posted by shmegegge at 10:57 AM on January 26, 2010


Stupid Question: where do they get money?

Welfare fraud.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:57 AM on January 26, 2010


What's the FLDS stance on incest? I understand there is a high incident of fumerase deficiency due to "cousin marriage," but what does that mean - first cousins marry? Half-siblings? Seems like it would be hard to find someone you weren't related to in that community.
posted by amro at 12:19 PM on January 26, 2010


Because these marriages are 'Spiritual' marriages and not 'Legal' marriages the women are basically seen as single mothers under the law. Single mothers who have no job and a lot of kids.

I know for a fact that a family with three kids with the father receiving unemployment will get at least $400 a month for food. This money is put on a debit-type card and is usually accepted at most grocery stores. There are restrictions, and you have to actually use it to buy food. There is however another card for welfare, it is basically a debit card that can be used anywhere. These 'single moms' with 10+ kids are being paid a tidy sum every month. They aren't paying rent and they aren't paying for child care. In fact, if a 'sister wife' is watching someone else's kids the state will pay them for it. These women are making out like bandits. The more kids they have, the more money the state will pay them. It isn't fraudulent, so they feel no guilt and see nothing wrong with it.

It wouldn't surprise me if they consider it the government's problem. That if the government would just 'make them legal' then tax payers wouldn't have to foot the bill. This is, of course, my opinion.
posted by TooFewShoes at 12:39 PM on January 26, 2010


There are limits to that power, of course, for it is subject to the dictates of the prophet. After hearing Melinda's stout defense of Jeffs, I ask what she would do if she were reassigned.

"I'm confident that wouldn't happen," she replies uneasily.

"But what if it did?" I ask. "Would you obey?"

For the only time during our interview, Melinda grows wary. Sitting back in her chair, she gives her head a quarter turn to stare at me out of the corner of one eye.

posted by jason's_planet at 12:40 PM on January 26, 2010


@Amro: There is a similar "Group" of FLDS somewhere in Canada (I'm not sure where, but I think it is just over the Idaho border. Girls are ocassionally moved between the two for marriages. I am guessing this is to help with the inbreeding.
posted by TooFewShoes at 12:41 PM on January 26, 2010


Bountiful, BC Canada.
posted by quodlibet at 1:02 PM on January 26, 2010


What's the FLDS stance on incest?

Pro-
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:03 PM on January 26, 2010


The plural marriage issue aside, something else I found it quite striking was what a monotone environment they live in. No art on the walls, no children's drawings on the fridge, the uniforms they wear with little variation in color. No self expression for anyone at all except for those amazing hairdos. Whatever the merits of this sort of religious society might be, wow, what a trade off. I can't see how they can stand living with no creative outlet whatsoever. The sterile environment of every room full of brown couches. I saw books, but I am quite sure there wasn't much fiction outside the bible and book of mormon (of course that is some creative writing for sure!) there. I imagine the piano was pretty much only for hymns and the happy birthday song. Living in that colorless world would kill me.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 1:05 PM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


An interesting note is that I've read that polygamy is actually practiced by the majority of cultures. I haven't been able to find the stats to quote here, but if you look at the worlds major religions you'll see that many of them (Islam, Buddhism) still allow polygamy. That being said, marrying your attractive underage cousins and then telling your wife that god says it's ok is not so cool.

The Doctrine and Covenants - section 132
54 And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and acleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be bdestroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.

55 But if she will not abide this commandment, then shall my servant Joseph do all things for her, even as he hath said; and I will bless him and multiply him and give unto him an ahundredfold in this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, wives and children, and crowns of beternal lives in the eternal worlds.

56 And again, verily I say, let mine handmaid aforgive my servant Joseph his trespasses; and then shall she be forgiven her trespasses, wherein she has trespassed against me; and I, the Lord thy God, will bless her, and multiply her, and make her heart to brejoice.


I haven't gotten my latest issue of National Geographic, but I am curious if it deals with the issue of welfare and the FLDS.

Plus, what is up with the hairdo on the women? Is that called the Mormon Twist or is there some special reason behind it?
posted by misterpatrick at 2:21 PM on January 26, 2010


Plus, what is up with the hairdo on the women? Is that called the Mormon Twist or is there some special reason behind it?

From what I remember from reading Carolyn Jessop's Escape, the women aren't allowed to cut their hair, put on make-up or wear anything fashionable, so the weird hairstyle is one of the only means they have of expressing themselves through fashion, and they like to tease those bangs as high as they can go.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:32 PM on January 26, 2010


Them sister wives on "Big Love" are a lot better lookin'.
posted by cogneuro at 4:02 PM on January 26, 2010


What's up with all the Sketchers? You put on a nice (albeit old fashioned) dress, do up your hair in a style requiring mucho hairspray, then you don a pair of clunky trainers... what? Yet that isn't the weirdest part, to my mind. Sketchers just seem like such a worldly sneaker. I'd think that plain white nursing shoes or the old style of Keds would be more appropriate for the FLDS set.
posted by Never teh Bride at 5:40 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Consensual polygamy between two adults.

I'm pretty sure it would involve at least three...
posted by amro at 1:43 PM on January 26 [4 favorites +] [!]


You are completely right, and I stand corrected. : )

True consent would, of course, mean consent of all partners in the marriage -- husband, sister wives, even children. I don't know to what extent polygamous cultures see the consent of all in the family.

As for the issue of whether one can truly consent if one has been raised in that society -- I suppose we all have that problem, though some more so than others. We are all within a given culture. Do those who save their virginity until marriage because that's how they were raised truly consent? Do those of us who eat meat because we were raised to consent? (I do, but that's because I've thought about it and decided that meat is a moral choice for me.)

I agree with the worry above about homeschooling -- I don't mind homeschooling to avoid poor educational techniques, but I worry deeply about home-schooling or private schooling which is intended to keep children within a certain culture. It's also one of the reasons I don't support the existence of religiously or culturally segregated schools, though we have them all over the first world. If only we could mandate cross-cultural immersion.
posted by jb at 6:19 PM on January 26, 2010


What's up with all the Sketchers? You put on a nice (albeit old fashioned) dress, do up your hair in a style requiring mucho hairspray, then you don a pair of clunky trainers... what? Yet that isn't the weirdest part, to my mind. Sketchers just seem like such a worldly sneaker. I'd think that plain white nursing shoes or the old style of Keds would be more appropriate for the FLDS set.

[snarf] You just reminded me of an SNL sketch that came out after the Heaven's Gate cult comitted suicide in 2007. It was a fake commercial that showed the members' bodies, covered with blankets, with just their feet, which were all in the same kind of Nikes, showing. Then a caption said, "Wear Reeboks!"

It's typical for Mennonite women to wear runners with their cape dresses, at least for daily wear. If you're going to be chasing your umpteen kids all day, you want your feet to be comfortable. They do put on nicer shoes when they go to church services or weddings or what have you. They still don't wear pumps so far as I can recall, but they wear a nicer leather low-heeled shoe. I suspect the FLDS women do something similar.
posted by orange swan at 7:03 PM on January 26, 2010


The saga of the FLDS raises fascinating questions of anthropology, cultural relativism, law, morality and many others.

While I am typically communitarian in my beliefs, I have to say that in this case, if I feel a community moves to the middle of nowhere to create a society that they want to create, where people are free to leave, then let them have their life, which would be more libertarian in thinking. A community should have the liberty to go do what they want, so long as when they're interacting with people outside that community, they are law-abiding according to the mores of the outside world, and so forth. What they don't deserve automatically, is welfare checks, unless the Federal or State government decides that it wants to help them out. They should be left alone.

Someone above asked if blacks and whites should be allowed to indulge in slavery in a separate community where either slave or master would be free to leave at all times (as is the case with the FLDS). I would argue, yes, if it's consensual, and done on an informal basis. It was the fact that slavery was lawful and state-sanctioned that made it so pernicious in the ante-bellum South, in addition to its abominably racist architecture. Had it been merely voluntary, years of brain-washing notwithstanding, I am certain it would not have been as successful. I certainly would have no problem with a voluntary society where the whites of Chinese are slaves and the blacks masters; that I personally would have a problem with the reverse is because of its historic baggage, and the white and more recent Chinese domination and exploitation of Africa that continues.

For those who feel that the children brought up in this system are brainwashed: well, we all are to different degrees growing up. However, we all still have the ability to think independently and have rebelled in different ways. The FLDS has lots of critics who have left it willingly and voluntary; others like the Lost Boys regret having been asked to leave. The majority have elected to stay. That is a consensual choice. No amount of brainwashing can make thousands of people stay together in a remote community unless they are choosing to do so. Why should they not be allowed to do so?

One reason that I feel that a tolerant view of FLDS should be adopted orcontinued, is because I think of how European men arrived in so many parts of the world and imposed their Christian ways on people. However, many tribes were left alone or fought to stay independent. Today, we don't go around trying to make them hew to our ways, even if we might subconsciously consider them barbaric. Then why treat the FLDS differently? Let them be their own tribe and mind their own ways. I would give one caveat: obviously, if there is a complaint of abuse from within to outside law enforcement, then that abuse needs to be dealt with according to the law of the outside law enforcement agency. But in the absence of such a plea, it is not worthwhile for law enforcement to be unduly meddlesome. For those who comment with derision for the FLDS, the assumption of superior morality is one that humans have fallen prey to throughout history, and yet social mores and morality are constantly changing, and very varied throughout the world.

For example, we don't know definitively whether the age of consent is scientifically or psychologically optimal at 14 (Spain's), 16 or 18. Even if one study said 16, another would likely say 18. When a community develops and decides that they wish to shun the rest of the world, is it prudent to try and stop them, given that all previous attempts have failed miserably?

I think not.
posted by Azaadistani at 2:55 AM on January 27, 2010


*whites or Chinese
posted by Azaadistani at 3:01 AM on January 27, 2010


I agree with you about the notion of "if this is what they want to do, let them," Azaadistaini. But therein lies the rub -- there's a lot of anecdotes that not everyone does want to do this -- in fact, a goodly number of the girls don't.

Mind, I don't doubt that there are some women who are perfectly fine with this (we'll set aside for the moment the notion of "how truly consensual is it if you have led a sheltered existance," because there's a big gray area in the middle there), but there are a goodly number of women who aren't fine living like this and are pressed into living like this anyway. That's where the problem is.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:25 AM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm more concerned that FLDS is a community designed to raise girls who do want this kind of life.

I explicitly reject Azaadistani's call to relativism: I believe educating children to be independent critical thinkers is a universal good. I understand this belief is not universal, but I think the other people are wrong.
posted by Nelson at 8:10 AM on January 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


A community should have the liberty to go do what they want, so long as when they're interacting with people outside that community, they are law-abiding according to the mores of the outside world, and so forth.

I know you wrote a much longer comment outside of this, but I think the central problem with the entire thing you're saying is that the community they want to create involves raising underage girls to think of themselves and rape-able property, and then raping them. I mean, I'm all for tolerating other cultures, but there's a line and raping underage children is so far past it that the question of "where do we draw the line" is kinda moot.
posted by shmegegge at 8:19 AM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Tolerant societies will always struggle on where to draw their lines. We have a similar debate about female genital surgery -- it's a religious/cultural practice which some girls consent to and some girls do not. Do we have a right to forbid it? It holds a very similar importance as a bris does in Judaism.

Not that I want to open that particular can of worms. I just wanted to bring it up as an example that tolerant, multi-cultural societies need to talk about where they want to draw the lines. And I think that we can be tolerant and still have NO-GO places -- after all, tolerance doesn't mean that the other culture does not have to compromise to respect the majority values.

I think we, as mainstream western society, can say that under-age marriage is a no-go place, because children and adolescents are not capable of consenting to that kind of commitment, and consent to marriage (and within sexual relations in general) is a core value of our society, a basic human freedom. That means no under-age plural marriage, no under-age monogamous marriage, no under-age same-sex marriage. Once you are 18, go for it. (And yes, 18 is a completely arbitrary line, but we have to pick one somewhere -- and 18 is better than 16 or 21. Girls who marry at 16 or earlier, for example, are much more likely to develop reproductive problems like fistulas, but if someone can serve in the army, they should be able to marry. And to drink).

As for whether you can have consent if one has been raised in an isolated community -- family pressure is always a problem. Some people face pressure to agree to an arranged marriage, others only to marry within their religion and/or ethnicity. (Heck, some people are told what courses they may take in university, regardless of their desire or aptitudes). We can't protect everyone. But by making a hard and fast rule that one cannot marry (or be strongly encouraged to marry) before 18, at least we are giving people more time to mature and more ability to be independent if they lose their familial support for defying the families' or communities expectations.

I would also say the same for non-necessary, permanent surgical interventions in the body. Before 18, it's not clear whether it is the individual who has chosen this, or their parents/community; after 18, it's their body, and I (or the rest of society) don't get a say.

Unless you want to ride a bicycle without a helmet -- then we're just saving our health care budget from your stupidity.
posted by jb at 9:07 AM on January 27, 2010


I would also say the same for non-necessary, permanent surgical interventions in the body. Before 18, it's not clear whether it is the individual who has chosen this, or their parents/community; after 18, it's their body, and I (or the rest of society) don't get a say.

Does piercing count? I see babies with pierced ears all the time and nobody thinks anything of it. Personally I feel 18 should be the age for that, but I know I'm probably on the fringe about it.
posted by marble at 6:06 PM on January 27, 2010


Well, up to two weeks ago I would have said that piercing ears isn't permanent. And the piercing I got when I was sixteen at the top of my ear has grown in. But the piercings in my earlobes which I got at thirteen are still open, even after not wearing earrings for some 10 years. (I tried them again, out of curiosity). But I think we can agree that ear piercings can at least be given up and the ear is returned to its original shape and functioning.
posted by jb at 7:18 PM on January 27, 2010


If we banned circumcision, fgm, tattooing, piercing, and other non-medically-necessary practices, to the age of 18? I'd be down with that, if that's what it takes to stop fgm.

More likely, we can work out a more middling ground, where the age of 1X becomes a stepping-stone toward adulthood. Indeed, if we were wise, we might make a big deal of them, and restore some of the "growing up rite" to our society.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:22 PM on January 27, 2010


So not permanent. But personally, I hold by my mom's age criteria : if you aren't old enough to deal with keeping them clean and preventing an infection, you are too young for even an impermanent piercing. But I don't feel like I had a choice made for me or made a choice I could later regret. Were I transexual, for example, and wished to transition to being a man, having ears pierced in a feminine style would not be a problem. The holes are invisible. Unless permanent hair removal on my legs or some other permanent cosmetic procedure.
posted by jb at 7:24 PM on January 27, 2010


sorry -- unless should be unlike.
posted by jb at 7:28 PM on January 27, 2010


« Older Candide, ou l'Optimisme   |   UK Government bans export of "explosives dowser" Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post