Sunday, April 6, 2008

Yearning for Zion and the Texas Polygamists

It sure is a good thing they changed that Temple Recommend Question--you know the one I'm talking about: Do you affiliate with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? They used to ask you if you sympathized with such groups, and I always had to answer "yes." (Never kept me from getting my recommend, btw.)

I do sympathize with fundamentalist groups, now let me tell you why.

  1. Joseph Smith and the early leaders of the Church taught the doctrine of plural marriage, which they called "celestial marriage." When we read certain passages in the D&C discussing the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, we should understand that this was referring to plural marriage. Thus members of the early Church were taught that in order to enter into the highest degree of celestial glory, they must live "The Principle."

  2. I've always felt a warm spot in my heart for those who wish to separate themselves from "the world." I often wondered if I had not joined the Church, if I might not have gone to live on "The Farm," a commune in Tennessee; or a kibbutz in Israel.

  3. Within the fundamentalist groups I have seen a religious fervor and zeal which I admire and imagine existed in the early LDS Church. Those who stand up for their beliefs against great persecution are admirable. The Prophet Joseph taught that "a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation."

Now, don't get me wrong! I believe in a living prophet today, and I follow the standard Mormon teachings on this subject. But that doesn't stop me from understanding where fundamentalist Mormons are coming from, and sympathizing with their position.

That's why I've followed with interest the building of the YFZ (Yearning for Zion) compound in Eldorado, Texas. (Pics here.) Even the name of the place breaks my heart. It's taken from a song written by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. I am disposed to believe that this is a group of people who yearns for Zion. They are willing to put their earthly lives and interests on the line for their religious beliefs. One member writes:

"I wonder why people think Plural Marriage is a sin. I know for myself that it is a correct principle and must be lived to attain the highest degree of glory in the Celestial Kingdom. I also know that most people I have known that enter the principle, do not live it correctly. So it is not for everyone. So why is it so bad to some people, for a man to claim two women as wives, take care of them and treat them as wives in every sense of the word, and for some reason it is not quite as bad for a man to have a wife and a mistress? Or is it? To me, THAT is awful."

And another polygamist muses:
"I don't know of a better reason, to live it, than that it is a commandment of God. If is was not a commandment of God, and that was my desire (to keep the commandments of God) then I am sure I would not choose to. I believe that every person must live according to the light and knowlege they have, in order to come to God at the Judgment day and have no regrets."

This morning I read the news reports that 137 children were removed from the compound by Texas Child Protective Services in an effort to determine if they are "at risk." 46 women were also bused from the compound and are being cared for by local churches. The operation came in response to claims that a 16-year-old girl had been abused. The Deseret News has reported that a 16-year-old girl who lives on the compound called Child Protective Services on Monday to report the incident. Some accounts identify her with a 16-year-old girl who was forced to marry 50-year-old Dale Barlow. Records show that she bore a child 8 months ago, at age 15. Dale Barlow is in Arizona, according to his probation officer, and he claims he doesn't know who made the report. Nobody can say who the girl is that reported abuse, and they have yet to find her. Teams are now searching the compound for this girl. Reports indicated that the SWAT team has entered the YFZ Temple under protest from FLDS faithful. I am so sorry to hear about this situation. It is a tense one for all involved.

These marriages between older men and young women certainly merit concern. But, as when I am answering the Temple Recommend questions, my sympathies are aroused. As Latter-Day Saints, we pressure our 8-year-old children to enter an important covenant. I myself have indoctrinated my children to do this because of my firm belief in certain religious precepts. My stay in the country of Saudi Arabia has acquainted me with girls who have been pressured into arranged marriages to older men. Some of the girls I teach in the university are under 21 years of age and have children 4 and 5 years old. They proudly show me their children's pictures on their cell phones. This is a cultural practice I disagree with, but it is not unlike that practiced by the FLDS. Some of you who have visited my blog have taken issue with those who would "export our values and culture to places that already have their own."

As you read the rant of an anonymous FLDS member you can see how they feel about 137 of their small children being removed from their homes:
"You have been fed a steady diet of bull puckey for long enough, why don't you try something else, your taste buds would enjoy it I'm sure. A strong mind is one that thinks for itself, not believes every malcontent filthy liar and every bit of media spin. Nobody, and I mean nobody is being raped!! I promise you that the 6 month old babies aren't being raped. I know of one 14 year old marriage, but in general the girls are older than that, you can keep bringing that up for your purpose of sensationalism as long as you'd like, it still doesn't make it the truth. I also know that every person is given a choice or asked if they are willing, they are not forced into the marriages, and you can go ahead and give us your drivel about brainwashing all you want to, I know I've been there, I wasn't brain washed, I loved what I lived... I made a choice, I was asked and I made that choice, so you will say I was brainwashed. Hogwash. Free will and choice, and a beautiful choice at that, I would way rather be married to a wonderful man that has matured and mellowed, than a young know it all buck... The people of the United States are the ones who are brain washed, with all the TV, sports... Only the Lord God of Heaven has the right to judge us, you don't and I don't have the right to judge you. The United States of America is supposed to be where you can practice what you believe..."

What do you think? If you truly believed it would help her gain celestial glory, would you encourage your 15-year-old daughter to marry an older man? Did your LDS forebears do this very thing? What about our revered Prophets of the Latter days?


Bored in Vernal said...

If anyone knows the words to the song, "Yearning for Zion," please comment!

ungewiss said...

This is why your blog made my RSS reader, BiV! My wife and I were talking about this before bed last night, and your post is exactly what I was trying to say. I can't help but feel profound sadness for the families whose children have been taken away. Say what you want about their beliefs; these are real people with real families, and they've been having a few very bad days.

Anonymous said...

Are there any young women in the LDS church that have been married before their 18th birthday? Have any young women in the LDS church been pressured by their parents and their church leaders to get married due to a pregnancy?

I just find it odd that mainstream society is so concerned with the young women in the FLDS church when according to a New York Times article, "Some studies indicate three-fourths of all girls have had sex during their teenage years and 15 percent have had four or more partners." A Lou Harris poll commissioned by Planned Parenthood discovered that 46 percent of 16-year-olds and 57 percent of 17-year-olds have had sexual intercourse. More than a third of 15-year-old boys have had sexual intercourse as have 27 percent of the 15-year-old girls. Among sexually active teenage girls, 61 percent have had multiple partners.

Should American society really be telling the FLDS how to raise their daughters?

Anonymous said...

Especially when Joseph Smith, himself, had a 14 year old wife. I would have to do some research on exactly how old he was at the time but he was a mature adult man. How can saints today condemn what Joseph Smith preached and lived?

anonymous alice

LaurieSue said...

I live here in San Angelo, TX, just 45 miles from ElDorado and the YFZ ranch. This morning's headline says that law enforcement entered the temple on the compound late last night, and as a result they brought "at least another dozen more women and children from the compound." The news here stated that 18 girls from ages 6 months to 17 "showed signs of having been abused or were in danger of abuse." Those 18 girls have been placed in custody of child protective services.
While I do respect the rights of other religions to practice in peace and even practice polygamy if they so choose, I am concerned by the possibility that women and children are being abused and forced to remain in this life against their will. I've seen other articles and documentaries in which they interviewed girls and women who escaped from FLDS compounds. The fact that anyone has to "escape" concerns me.

C. L. Hanson said...

If it's clear that the plural marriages are among adults and are voluntary, then I don't have a problem with it on principle. In order to be convinced that it is voluntary, then in addition to the women being of age, I'd want to be sure of the following things:

1. The women can expect that if they were to leave their husband, then they have a reasonable expectation of being able to get a job to support themselves and their children, as well as a reasonable expectation of getting custody of them.
2. Taking an additional wife is considered legal grounds for divorce, so an earlier wife can leave her husband (and get alimony/child support) if she objects to his additional marriages.

If it were regulated in this manner, I would agree that it's their choice and their business.

OTOH, I have a comment about the claim that polygamy is necessarily better than cheating or taking a mistress. It is a question of better for whom? Open polygamy is probably better for the second wife, but the wife/mistress model is probably better for the first wife.

I know a lot of women would be willing to forgive their husband for an affair if he were truly sorry and agreed to break it off, but would be absolutely devastated at being required to face their husband's "other woman" every day in their own home. Even in societies that tolerate the wife/mistress model, it's still viewed as wrong, and that gives the legitimate wife power to pressure her husband not to take up a side relationship in the first place (or to break it off if he does, think: Moonstruck), rather than society expecting the first wife to put up with it with a smile.

I'm not saying the real wife + cheating model is necessarily better, but I'm saying that it's a gross oversimplification to suggest that polygamy is better overall just because the infidelity/philandering is out in the open. Ideally, the best is is a situation where every woman has the (economic) power to leave an intolerable/abusive relationship -- so the man has that much more incentive to keep his family happy and be absolutely sure the situation is voluntary for everyone involved.

littlemissattitude said...

The thing that concerns me about the FLDS is not that they practice polygamy. I figure that consenting adults should be able to enter into whichever sorts of relationships they feel approproate for themselves.

But the key words here are "consenting" and "adults". Fourteen- and fifteen-year-old children are not adults, and women who are "reassigned" to another husband when their spouse is deemed to be unsuitable are not, by definition, consenting if they have no choice in the matter.

Also along the lines of consent, I have huge problems with the conditions that seem to be present in the FLDS (as well as in some other cults; I'm certainly not singling them out as the only ones who do this) where members, especially children, are kept isolated to the point where pretty much the only thing they are told about the outside world is that it is supposedly "evil". They are essentially given no real basis on which to make a choice about how they wish to live. That is just wrong.

If the only way a group is able to hold on to its members is by demonizing all other ways of life, that is, if it cannot keep members through the emphasis on positive aspects of its beliefs and practices rather than emphasizing the negative aspects of the rest of the world, then there is something wrong with that organization.

denebug said...

Does anyone know if the women and children taken from the compound are able to stay together as families (siblings together, mothers with children)? Or are some of the women charged with abuse as well?

LaurieSue said...

The Eldorado newspaper, "The Eldorado Success," has posted a couple of brief updates at They have some interesting history on the Eldorado compound as well. It's not really clear whether all the mothers and children are together, but hopefully that is the case. I haven't heard any reports of mothers accused of abuse, but few details have come out so far.

Anonymous said...

Per (I think it was) the Deseret News, the judge involved issued a warrant requiring that ALL children in the compound be removed.

Using this kind of legal precedent, if my Mormon neighbor in my Mormon neighborhood is accused of child abuse, my kids can be taken away, too--and shipped off to a local Baptist church prior to placement with a family whose religious views conflict with my own. As one who has somewhat apocalyptic notions of what future relations between the LDS Church and the Federal government will eventually become--this scares the crap out of me.

Anonymous said...

Oops--it was the Trib.

just thinking said...

How can we "the world" sit in judgement of these people when many of us think it is perfectly normal and healthy for men to marry men and women to marry women? Doesn't that mean that anything goes?

littlemissattitude said...

I don't think "religious belief" can be used to justify forcing underage girls into marriages with men much older than themselves. That is child abuse.

So, no I don't think that allowing same-sex couples..consenting marry opens the door to sex with children, even if there is a so-called marriage involved. I'm not a big fan of Texas overall, but I think they got it right when they outlawed marriages for those under the age of 16, even if they have the consent of their parents. I could probably argue that the statutory age should actually be 18.

Anonymous said...

Lets hope our Gov't keeps the ATF at bay. Lets see now - how is this for America and our ideals: We take an anonymous tip (or so it seems since the victim has yet to be found) concerning abuse and use that as justification to strip the parental rights of all associated group members. We do this because they share common religious beliefs, and seek to exercise their freedom of association by, yes, associating together. The Gov't comes into their homes to search, apparently because the Gov't has no specific (ie vague) idea of the location of the victim. So, they search all the living areas (ie homes). The mothers are detained despite the fact that the complaint involved a purported 16 year old and out of state 50 yr old male. Ok, I will give a little here, the moms were really not detained, they could leave at any time so long as they left their children behind. Then we have the "interview" process whereby U.S. citizens, detained, are questioned, although not charged, and no doubt offered "deals" if the detainee can just "help out a little" and supply a little helpful information. The real victems here are you, me, our Constitutional rights, and the 100 plus members of this group which have little difficulty right now noticing the power of a goverment out of control. As a country we used to proudly note that we put up with and protected the press, dissident groups, flaky religions, same sex unions, southern Klan marches and other issues, groups, etc which conflicted with mainstream values, such restraint being the result to a sacred deference to out Constitution. Not here. Not now. What next?

Anonymous said...

I was going to leave a post about the polygamous "enclave" within 1/4 mile of my home. However, the mothers I have met have been pleasant and the ones that I haven't met keep to themselves. The men are scarce--probably to keep themsleves out of jail.

I do wish to comment on Texas. After reading the articles in the Des News, it seems apparent that their "religion" and temple ceremonies are guises to cover-up the sordid lusts of middle-aged men to marry(read:have sex with) young thirteen and fourteen-year old girls. Plural marriage may be a way into the Celestial Kingdom in their views, but child sexual abuse should only be met with a Mill-stone and the depths of the ocean.
A child under the age of eighteen has no way of consenting or even realizing what they are getting into with a "spiritual marriage". To dismiss these men's deviance by pointing out the sexual promiscuity of other American teens misses the point entirely. Forty-five year old men have no reason to be sexually involved with minors. The physical trauma, let alone the incredible mental trauma to these young girls is unacceptable abuse.

ScottyDoo said...

Here's an mp3 of the song...

Venerable Reid said...

Peace! I find it very disturbing that the state of Texas, which doesn't have a great track record when it comes to protecting children in fostercare, has taken on responsibility for 400+ more children. Are the children already in the system being cared for?
And while I am opposed to non-consensual marriage I have to ask why a 16 year old woman cannot consent to marriage but can be tried (and sentenced) as an adult for equally serious crimes?
And lastly, there have been no reports of any kind of sexual abuse of young men and boys. So why were they removed from the compound?
Methinks that there is more going on than meets the eye.

Connor said...

Biv (and others),

I've started a petition which I hope will gain some traction, so it can then be sent to Texas officials.

Free the Innocent FLDS petition

Anonymous said...


I signed the petition because I find these acts deplorable. I'm not FLDS, LDS, or even a Christian at all but it shouldn't matter what religion you are in order to support and defend the rights of others to practice their religion. These children were siezed not because of any abuse but because the religion they are a part of is so outside the realm of most people's experience.

I agree that children should be taken from abusive homes but even the marriages of young girls with their parents consent is not something that should be considered abusive. I don't have to like it. I don't have to agree with it but I should not, and will not, stand by idly while good people have their homes torn apart based on bigotry.

If I had a way to contact those mothers and those families and tell them I support them. Donate money and whatever else I could I would but I have no idea how or where to go to do it.

Queitsch Hof said...

Nice comments you wrote...i am not a Mormon but,first of all, nothing is proven. Not even the so called 16 year old was found. We have to be careful of condemning all mothers for the sake of a few who were abused, escaped and are speaking loudly on TV shows. So it looks like anonymous call can get 416 children taken away from parents with no proof of abuse. What happened to habeas corpus?

Now even if we take into account that Warren Jeffs did not follow the Texas law and allowed 16 and under girls to marry, we have no right to take children away from mothers. We can take 16 year old pregnant girls along with their children to a shelter. But what is the purpose of taken women who are older than 16? What is the purpose of taking their children? Why take a 5 year old boy from his mother? I have read that foster homes in America are in general bad places to be- you are more likely to get abused at a foster home than anywhere else. So Texas has taken possibly so called "abused" children (not saying they were) from the pan into the fire.

And as far as I know, only the first wife is legally married and the rest are technically lovers in Texas law. Since when cant a man have lovers?

So how many men in our world slept with more than one woman? Many. How many women in America live alone without fathers and the fathers have children by several women? Do those mothers get their children taken away? No. How many men have a wife and a lover or two? Plenty.

What is the point of taking the children away from women whose biological fathers have children by other women? They need to have a dialogue with the community and say, we require that you do not allow "marriage" of girls till say 18. (How many girls in America are pregnant with 15?) I am sure they will cooperate. especially after this tragedy.

It was also wrong to take their cell phones away from them. Cant any Texas Civil Rights lawyers help those women, my God. What a tragedy for the kids to be torn from their mothers. So unnecessary. They were only looking for a 16 year old...or so they can they just take EVERYBODY?

monkey said...

thank you for providing such informative material. it shouldn´t take a fool not to recognize that the world is moving towards catastrophe (which seems to me to put most of the population into the "fool" category).
i shall be reading your page with avid interest in the days to come.
meanwhile, those of YFZ who have been torn away from each other have my total sympathy.

Anonymous said...

As others have pointed out, girls under the age of 18 are not referred to as women by the majority of the civilized world. The ability to conceive does not equate to emotional or physical maturity. The scientific data shows that underage pregnancy and childbirth has long-term negative consequences for both the child and mother. After reading the indoctrination techniques used in "helping" these girls agree to early marriage (you will be hurt if you go out into the world) it is no wonder they agree. If that is what you are taught as a child, that is what you grow up believing. Living with an old man - these men may not think they are old, but 20 to 30 years age difference make them old men-is not the dream of of any teenage girls that I have ever met. It would appear that the dreams of these teenage girls are of little consequence to the men of this sect.

If men are have multiple wives, are women also encouraged to have multiple husbands? Are older women in their 40s and 50s allowed 14 or 15 year old husbands? It appears that the women in these cases benefit very little from these arrangement. It would be unacceptable for either my husband or myself to take a lover outside our marriage vows, let alone bring a third person into the marriage.

Anonymous said...

In response to the question, "Should American society really be telling the FLDS how to raise their daughters?", the social problems in America are real...but to say this is a better solution? Sounds like we are trading one bad situation for another bad situation. I'm a college student (woman) and just finished up Western Civ...this attitude was pretty common back in the 17 and 1800s when women were still considered property. I feel sympathy for the mothers who are separated from their children but when I read that some of these teenagers have several children, I wonder what is going to happen the their daughters when they grow up?

Anonymous said...

What an ugly precedent this is setting. I am a student of underground Christian movements in the Soviet Union, and the forcible removing of over 400 FLDS children from their mothers reminds me of the Soviet tactic of removing children from the homes of practicing Christians and placing them in state-run orphaneges where the children were either forced to denounce Christianity or were severely persecuted.

Do we believe in freedom of religion, or don't we?!? Is this the United States of America??? If the Texas authorities can get away with this -- especially when all evidence points to the "tip-off" of abuse coming from a fraudulent source -- WHO IS NEXT? Which religious group will be the next to have their rights taken???

If you believe that doing the wrong thing (stripping American citizens of their rights) for the right reason (in the name of protecting teenage girls from underage marriage) is O.K., think again.

Billions of people perished in prison camps and were massacred by their government in the Soviet Union, all in the name of equality for everybody. History repeats itself.

Anonymous said...

Something to consider: Why would anyone ask for mandated DNA testing on all of the children? In my opinion, there is something scary going on aside from the degree of government intervention/infiltration/overstepping of bounds (call it what you will depending on your own view). I believe DNA testing has been requested and the children were put into custody here because some of the children are from mothers who were as young as 13 years of age at the time of childbirth. Even with religious toleration and freedom of expression and worship, a 13 year old girl should not be having anyone's baby.

Oh, and the statistics of how many young teenage boys and girls are sexually active should actually read "3/4 of American parents don't have any idea what their kids are doing." Correct me if I'm wrong.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious why plural marrige seems only to apply to men having wives and not women having husbands.
- K

Anonymous said...

FLDS website:

Anonymous said...

I have a problem with any government oppressing religion, but in this case, the gov, was completely justified.

Apparently, 41 of the kids have been found to have broken bones, and many of the boys were found to be sexually abused. 30 of the 53 girls from 14 to 17 who were at the ranch are pregnant or have children.

If what the state of Texas did is religious oppression, then so be it. These kids deserved better.

Anonymous said...

The way CPS handles child abuse/neglect cases is that there are no "lesser offenses" -- if you abuse or neglect your child (in their opinion) your child goes to foster care, if you "fail to protect" your child from abuse/neglect your child goes to foster care, and the ultimate is that if your child is deemed to be "at risk of future abuse/neglect" the child goes to foster care. The people of CPS are very arrogant and self-satisfied, and if you ever become entangled with them it will leave a mark on you for the rest of your life.

But although I DO sympathize with anybody having to have CPS involved in their lives, I certainly do wonder why the polygamous groups don't simply get a "revelation" telling members to stop marrying off people under the age of 18. The government would probably be willing to overlook the welfare fraud and possibly even most of the tax evasion if group members would just STOP having sex with minors.

Anonymous said...

I would be careful about assuming that the reports of broken bones and sexual abuse of boys are accurate. CPS, the police, and the Texas judiciary are being criticized for their handling of this case, so they all have a big incentive to publicize the "seriousness" of the charges against these people. There have been a number of other cases in which CPS has snatched people's kids for having "broken bones" diagnosed by an M.D., and then the M.D. later refuses to testify that the bones were ever broken. There is a very lengthy article on the internet written by a guy who lived in Detroit who had his toddler son diagnosed as having "broken bones." ALL of his children were taken away, and he and his wife were reduced to visiting their own children for weeks or months until the case was ultimately dropped. Up until the very time the case dissolved, he and his wife were both treated as heinous criminals by CPS.

After the McMartin case and some of the other CPS-induced hysterias over child sexual abuse, I am very slow to believe CPS regarding sexual abuse of children. Virtually every CPS office has videotaping equipment so that they can videotape the statements of minor children who are brought into care, but CPS rarely, if ever, uses it for that purpose. By the time they get around to videotaping the child making a statement, the child has been "interviewed" (some would say coached) for numerous hours over a period of time. Often, they are promised that if they tell the truth (disclose the abuse) the investigation will be over and they can go home. CPS has its own agenda.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in "Plural Marriage". I had two wonderful Mothers who dearly loved each other and loved all of my Fathers children. I do not consider any to be 1/2 brothers etc. We had a happy wonderful life. We never ever relied on government funding. We worked hard, played hard and loved much. We were never forced. In many families that I know, it is so beautiful that those not part of our religion cannot understand it. There are always Mothers to tend, to cook healthy food, to garden, sew and teach school. If a Mother needs to be gone she knows her children are being cared for and loved. They have a beautiful love between them that cannot be described. The Law of Abraham is what we believe in.
Any one choosing to leave our community can do so easily. Some of my family have chosen that path and I love and respect them in their choice.As to girls being forced to marry, nothing is farther from the truth. I had a choice and so does every other one. A few choose to marry young, same as any other place in our nation. There are witnesses that heard "Elisa" beg time after time to get married at 14 and her Father just kept telling her she was too young. But she pushed and pushed till he gave in and gave her what she thought she wanted. Then she had to blame someone. She is so insistent on the course she has now chosen that she has convinced herself that what never happened is the truth. The few young men that have been "kicked out" are those who brought liquor, drugs, or worse into the home and were told they could not live there doing such things. Most just walked away on their own. We forgive all who are out spreading untruths about us and pray for them also.

Bored in Vernal said...

anonymous, thank you for that beautiful comment. I would love to talk more with you. If you like, you can email me at clbruno at hotmail.

KimLairson said...

I saw on the news one family that had a monogamous marriage and six children. The parents were both of age, but their children were taken, too.