Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Polygamists in the News

Like many people, I've been watching this whole FLDS polygamist/child-abuse raid thing happening in Texas with interest. There's something about it that makes me really uncomfortable. Actually several things. Strangely all sides of the argument make me feel like squirming in my seat a bit.

One minute I'm looking at a photograph of a weeping woman dressed much like a pioneer. It's a little bit eery -- almost like looking at living history and suddenly being confronted with the human aspects rather than just the cold facts of what has happened. It's hard to condemn something or someone when you feel a personal connection. You see some of my own ancestors practiced polygamy.

The next moment I'm confronted with horror stories of abuse and fear. There are some published accounts of life within the FLDS community that are getting a lot of publicity right now. The details of their lives make me shudder. At the same time, I'd expect them to be less than enthusiastic supporters of a group they disassociated themselves from. People just don't leave something because they really, really, really like it. On the other hand, I personally know a man who did leave this lifestyle and religion and have no reason not to trust what he tells me about his childhood.

And then there's the legal issues. Did the State of Texas drastically overstep their bounds and trample on the rights guaranteed us citizens by the Constitution? While it's looking more and more like the impetus for this raid was a hoax call, I can find merit in this argument and I feel some distress for what it means. Freedoms once lost cannot be easily regained.

I'm just not quite sure what I think about all of this. At the end of the day, though, I think I'd have to say I'm not patently against polygamy. If consenting adults choose this life I'm really not offended by it. Actually if you get past the sexual issues and politics of sharing a husband... it might have some intriguing benefits. My great grandparents had passed away many years before I was born, so I only know the family stories about them but it seems they were very happy in their chosen shared life. Great grandpa was married to 3 sisters. Between them they had 30 children. My grandfather often said it didn't matter which house they were in as children, they were treated the same. They knew they were loved and wanted and welcome and treated as a gift from our Father in Heaven. The stories passed down in my family say that it was the wives who chose polygamy. Great grandpa fell in love with, and wanted to marry, the oldest sister. She told him the only way she'd agree was if he also married her two younger sisters following their 18th birthdays. My great grandmother was the youngest sister.

But I don't think the polygamy they lived is anything like the polygamy that I understand is practiced in the FLDS communities. For perspective, I'm relying heavily on Dave's story. He was born into the FLDS community of Colorado City as one of 56 children - I don't remember how many wives he said his father had. He said the first word he learned was "more" because with that many kids there was never enough food and as soon as it hit the table everyone was clamoring for their share. He tells of deciding it wasn't the life he wanted to live as a teenager and trying to run away from home... only to be hunted down, beat nearly to death and drug home where he was forced to kneel before their "prophet" to confess his sins. He tells about being so scared afterward that he knuckled under and tried to conform and eventually found a girl he wanted to marry. He went so far as starting to build a house. One day this "prophet" came by and declared it a fine house for "5-6 little doves" and expressed the expectation to... shall we say, produce quick and visible results. He ran again. This time he was successful.

The way I see polygamy, like most things we encounter in life, has a good side and a shadow. It can be a joyful shared life or it can be full of force, abuse, loneliness and hard thankless labor. It's very hard to judge someone else's life. It's hard to know why they do the things they do. And in this case, I think the "why" matters.

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