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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What's the Big Deal with Polygamy Anyway?

by Ben Johnson (bio)

Image by Karli Plant

I had originally planned on doing a post on this a year ago but I held off. Now that polygamy is in the news again because of what is going on with gay marriage (see here, here or here) I figured I could dust this off. Way back when I was a guest poster I had published some emails my brother and I had exchanged on the topic of inoculation. Below is another thread we had going on polygamy. What had sparked the conversation was an ignorant explanation from Glenn Beck about why we Mormons practiced polygamy (this was during Romney's campaign for the presidency and Beck was trying to normalize Mormons I think).

The question I had for my brother (and what I want to put to you folks) is this: aside from getting kicked out of the church, what's wrong with polygamy?

As a side note, I don't want anyone to think I'm advocating for a return to polygamy. I'm not. I'm just curious why polygamy is viewed in such a negative light in today's society.


To: Brother
From: Ben

Sorry, I just heard more Glenn Beck's explanation for pgmay. He said, "When the Mormons got to Utah and they weren't persecuted anymore, p'gamy stopped." Nothing could be further from the truth. 1852 was when it was publicly announced by Orson Pratt. I don't get why Glenn would not know this. Heck, the OD at the back of the D&C makes it explicit that we were doing it until 1890. We even did it after that but not publicly.

To: Ben
From: Brother

Speaking of odd things said about polygamy:

1 - On my mission in Illinois we got asked a lot about pgy by the natives. There was a set answer that, like rumors, somehow gets started and then spreads through the mission. It went like this: In Illinois during that time women couldn't own property and lots of the Mormon men were being killed off by the mobs. The property owned by these men would revert to the state. So in order for the church to protect its members' property it instituted pgy. Plus, only 3% of the church ever lived pgy and it was only if you were called to be a pgy-ist. I was naïve and didn't know any better, but it sounded good to me.

2 - When I was at BYU we were discussing pgy in our SS class. Someone asked about the church's stand that we obey the law of the land and how to reconcile that with living illegal pgy. A girl in the class, whose dad was some sort of fireside circuit speaker, raised her hand and said that Utah wasn't part of the U.S. yet so the church wasn't violating any laws.

To: Brother
From: Ben

Per #1, I think I had heard that on my mission too, at least the lack of men issue. Never heard the property piece of it though. Glenn did say it was 5% and you had to be called. I'm not sure about either of those but the 'had to be asked to participate' kind of makes sense. It helps prevent the John C. Bennett's of the world causing you trouble.

#2 - I’ve never put much stock in the obeying the laws of the land conundrum. I figure we do it when it suits us. When it doesn't, we thumb our nose. P'gmy is the reason I think this. Back when it was illegal and the U.S. was doing everything they could to stop us we were still living it. Couldn't the prophet have said, "Hey, they made a law against it so we better knock it off so we don't run afoul of our articles of faith?" Instead it had to be stopped by revelation.

Even during Joseph's life he would swing between the government being awesome to the government is full of clowns and a$$-hats. I'm not saying that is wrong. It's not as if we have the best and brightest as our representatives. It's good when it serves us and sucks when it doesn't.

To: Ben
From: Brother

I asked Thomas Alexander (you remember he was in my Provo ward) what the percentage was of Mormons that lived the law of pgy. The number he gave me was 20% or 40%, I can't remember which. Probably 20% because 40% seems really high.

For some reason I'm thinking that the notion you had to be called to be a pgy was false. I'm not sure why I think that, but some web research should answer that.

BTW, as for pgy and legality: any Mormon today that thinks pgy should be outlawed is the very definition of hypocrite. If there's a logical argument for why the gov't should allow pgy for Mormons and then make it illegal for everyone else, I'd like to hear it.

To: Brother
From: Ben

As to your last point, it depends on why you think it should be outlawed. If I were splitting hairs I would say this: the pgamists just off Bangerter and Redwood [fn1], as well as the pgamists down in Colorado City and YFZ should be barred from practicing it. Why? Because they are abusive and they get really young girls involved. The folks up by Little Cottonwood canyon [fn2] who dress normal and are consensual about it? I've got no problem.

What I'm saying is, pgamy by itself isn't the problem. It is the stuff that has built up around it in some cases. Sure, we may find it weird and hope it doesn't come back in our life, but what would be the harm to society if next week another woman started living in my house? She'd be a normal hardworking citizen. The only thing different about her is that she happens to share a husband.

Don't think I've gone off the rails here but wouldn't pgamy solve some of the problems of society? I'm thinking here of all the kids in Chicago/LA/New Orleans that never have and never will see their dad. What if all these women started taking hold of one man [Isa 4:1] and said, "Look, let's band together and raise these kids right. You work and provide and I'll keep the house up. Lady A will work, Lady B will help me, Lady C will run the car dealership, etc." It would also help with the low birthrates. Europe and Asia are dying. I'm no math whiz but two parents having one kid won't work out in the long run, economically or biologically.

Does that make sense or have I gone off the reservation?

To: Ben
From: Brother

Your argument in your first paragraph for why it should be outlawed is because some pgyists are abusive to children. I agree that there are some pgyists (maybe even most pgyists) who are abusive to children. But abusing children is already illegal. Since pgy itself isn't abusive to children, you can't outlaw it simply because there are lots of pgyist that abuse children.

Your second paragraph defeats the argument you're making in your first paragraph. As you say, "pgamy by itself isn't the problem." Exactly.

The point I was making in my original email is that I can't fathom the logic of a Mormon who says that pgy should be illegal. A Mormon would most likely think that the Church should have been allowed to practice pgy in the 1800's. If someone believes that the Church should be allowed to practice pgy, then how can that person make an argument that other people shouldn't be allowed to?

[fn1] Cross streets in Riverton, Utah where some polygamists live.
[fn2] Located in Sandy, Utah. I think they may have been featured on Sister Wives and inspired some of Big Love?

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